Greece’s military is once again said to be in a state of high alert with all troops prevented from leaving their duty stations or going on temporary leave. Not only has Turkey’s Energy Minister Fatih Donmez announced Monday that the Oruc Reis seismic exploration ship has been dispatched to the Mediterranean, but Bloomberg reports Turkey has launched naval exercises in the same region.
“Turkey launched naval exercises off two Greek islands and announced energy exploration research in the same area, projecting its military might amid heightened territorial tussles in the eastern Mediterranean,” according to the report.
The naval drills are described as east and to the south of Rhodes and Kastellorizo, both which are among Greece’s easternmost islands, and not far from Turkey’s coast. The drills are expected to go multiple days running through this week.
Greece’s defense ministry says it’s prepared to “counter” any Turkish military maneuvers in a worsening situation which appears ripe for conflict, also given Turkey’s oil and gas exploration plans have been source of intense controversy for the past year, resulting in threatened EU sanctions for violations of Greek and Cypriot waters. This as an urgent Greek Government Council for National Security meeting is expected to kick off Monday in Athens.
“Turkey doesn’t recognize Greece’s claim that its territorial waters start immediately south of Kastellorizo, the most distant Greek outpost,” Bloomberg continues. “The gunnery exercises that will run through Tuesday, according to a Turkish navy website, are a message that Ankara won’t accept any agreement or move that would limit its own maritime interests in the Mediterranean.”
Though as of a week ago it appeared a cooling of tensions could be on the horizon, with Athens and Ankara said to be in negotiations, Turkey abruptly halted its diplomacy after the announcement of a Greece and Egyptian deal defining their exclusive economic zones in contradiction to Ankara’s interpretation.
Turkey denied the agreement as “null and void” — which means Turkey’s expansionist claims are being contested by pretty much every Mediterranean country, also including Israel. The exception of course, is the Tripoli-based Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), which lately inked its own agreement with Turkey defining broad swathes of the Mediterranean as within Turkey’s rights.
Erdogan’s office has since said that the Greece-Egypt deal effectively cut Turkey out of crucial dialogue, so it is forced to resume its energy exploration. “We were engaged in talks with Greece for the last two-and-a-half months in Berlin and had even agreed on a joint statement but Greece announced its deal with Egypt just a day before it,” the Turkish presidency spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told CNN-Turk television on Sunday.
Turkey has sought to argue that the so-called Turkish Republic of Cyprus, which remains unrecognized internationally, gives it expansive rights encompassing the whole of Cyprus, including areas that cut into Greece’s waters. The EU, with France’s Macron lately leading the way, has consistently sided with Greece and Turkey, condemning Turkey’s maritime violations of EU member states’ Exclusive Economic Zones.