The EU and the US have left no doubt – if there were any doubt – that they consider Turkey to be out of line in its maritime border dispute with Greece. Senior officials from both parties have warned Turkey not to proceed with its intention to explore for gas in areas that are the subject of maritime boundary disputes with Greece and Cyprus.
Following Turkey’s declaration last week that it is sending a survey vessel, the Oruc Reis, to conduct exploratory activities in an area over which Turkey and Greece have competing claims, the country’s leadership has been warned by the EU and the US not to proceed.
Greece has already put its Navy on high alert and announced that it has sent warships to the area where the Turkish seismic exploration vessel was stated to have been headed.
Previously, the US State Department had warned Turkey over its intention to explore for gas reserves in waters between Cyprus and Greece, which Athens has declared ‘illegal’ given that the area cuts into Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The State Department issued a declaration saying: “We urge Turkish authorities to halt any plans for operations and to avoid steps that raise tensions in the region.”
French President Emmanuel Macron also denounced the plan late last week, saying it’s “not acceptable for the maritime space of a European Union member state to be violated or threatened” and calling for sanctions if Turkey commences exploration in the zone.
Last year, the EU adopted a sanctions regime targeting Turkey over its unauthorized gas drilling in Cypriot waters. However, the measures were terminated before they took full effect as Turkey cut short its exploration program in the relevant area.
Turkey has so far rejected all demands from the US, EU, Greece and Cyprus that it back down. Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper cited President Erdogan’s office as follows:
Turkey rejects Greece’s “maximalist” objectives in the Eastern Mediterranean, which lack a legal basis and disregards logic, Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın said Thursday.
Kalın highlighted that Turkey opposes the rhetoric of threats and favours an equal distribution of resources.
The Greek side’s “maximalist” position claims that the island of Kastellorizo (Meis in Turkish) – only 2 kilometres from the Turkish shore, but about 580 km away from the Greek mainland – “should have a 40,000 square km continental shelf area, which is almost like half of Turkey’s Gulf of Antalya,” Kalın told an online policy briefing by the European Policy Centre in cooperation with the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey (DEIK).
Turkey has also used its claims over northern Cyprus, or the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” to say it can drill in waters encircling the entire island.
This is the geographical / legal distribution of the EEZs of Turkey (red) and Greece (brighter blue).
No surprise, Turkey is extremely p*ssed at the situation.
However explorations and drillings without the consent of its EEZ neighbors is surely not the answer to the problem … pic.twitter.com/dh6kltzNB7
— Julian Röpcke (@JulianRoepcke) July 21, 2020
Greek media sources are now reporting that Turkey has informed the US through its embassy in Washington DC that it plans to continue its drilling and seismic exploration activities in the disputed eastern Mediterranean waters.
Greece’s foreign ministry has reiterated that the planned activity clearly violates the country’s sovereignty and that it stands ready to defend its territory, a statement that was backed up by an announcement that the Greek Navy has dispatched warships to the disputed area.
Though reports in Turkish media have claimed the Oruc Reis vessel has already embarked on its assigned mission in the disputed waters, analysts have pointed out that as of late last week it hadn’t actually left port, suggesting that Turkey may be taking Greek threats of military action seriously – particularly so given that they are backed up by unequivocal statements against the Turkish stance emanating from Europe’s political heavyweights and the US.
That's really weird since the #OruçReis seems anchored right outside the port of Antalya, nowhere near the illegal NAVTEX issued by Turkey a few days ago. https://t.co/9dxHUgx1UK https://t.co/5IO834MRqD pic.twitter.com/UaXpPi4dnX
— The Greek Analyst (@GreekAnalyst) July 25, 2020
Analysts fear that the additional deployment of naval forces in the midst of rapidly escalating tensions in the region could easily lead to armed clashes if not a large-scale war.
A statement issued by US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt late last week hinted at just such a scenario of military confrontation on the high seas.
“I want to echo the clear message from Washington and elsewhere in Europe, urging Turkish authorities to halt operations that raise tensions in the region, such as plans to survey for natural resources in areas where Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean.” LINK
The US has thus far refrained from threatening economic sanctions against Turkey (though it had no such reluctance when Turkey announced its decision to purchase Russia’s advanced S-400 air defence system). Nonetheless, it is increasingly clear that if Turkey does not relent, the US will not support its position and will probably throw its support behind Greece.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Disputes in eastern Mediterranean map satellite images
- Ripple effects Greece and Turkey open new northern front on Libyan conflict