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DECEMBER 2020

Turkey Announces Extension Of Survey Vessel Mission In Disputed Maritime Zone

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Turkey Announces Extension Of Survey Vessel Mission In Disputed Maritime Zone

The Oruc Reis with naval escort in August

In what seems to be a calculated move to further antagonize the European Union and the United States, Turkey announced on Saturday evening that it would be extending the seismic survey mission of the Oruc Reis in a disputed area of the Eastern Mediterranean until the 4th of November.

Turkey and Greece are locked in a dispute over the location of the maritime boundary between the two countries in the Eastern Mediterranean. The dispute escalated abruptly in August when Turkey sent the Oruc Reis into waters that are also claimed by Greece and Cyprus, both European Union member states.

After months of tense confrontations and successive rounds of military exercises involving warships and aircraft around the disputed areas, Turkey finally agreed to withdraw the Oruc Reis from the disputed area last month to allow for diplomacy.

The decision was made just before an EU leaders summit was to be held, at which Cyprus sought sanctions against Turkey. However, the vessel was sent back to continue its exploratory activities in the disputed area earlier this month, prompting an angry reaction from Greece, France and Germany. The US also sharply criticized the move.

On 13 October, the United States said it ‘deplored’ Turkey’s decision to renew geological survey activity in disputed areas. US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus called the move a “calculated provocation” that would aggravate tensions with other NATO members.

“Turkey’s announcement unilaterally raises tensions in the region and deliberately complicates the resumption of crucial exploratory talks between our Nato allies Greece and Turkey. Unilateral actions cannot build trust and will not produce enduring solutions.”

However, Turkey brushed off the criticism, angered by the US decision to end restrictions on the transfer of arms to Cyprus in late August. The restrictions were put in place in 1987 to encourage reunification efforts and avoid an arms race on the island.

“In a period in which efforts are being made to reduce tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, the US’ signing of such a decision poisons regional peace and stability,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Turkey, as a guarantor country, will take the necessary reciprocal steps in line with its legal and historical responsibility to guarantee the security of the Turkish Cypriot people.”

Earlier this month, Turkey’s foreign ministry accused Greece of planning military manoeuvres in the Aegean Sea to coincide with Turkey’s national day celebrations on the 29th of October. Turkey retaliated by declaring exercises on the 28th of October – a Greek national holiday.

Turkey Announces Extension Of Survey Vessel Mission In Disputed Maritime Zone

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Late last week, it appeared that the two sides were willing to reduce tensions. On Friday, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that both countries had agreed to cancel military exercises scheduled for this week after chairing a virtual meeting of Nato defence ministers. He commented that: “These are steps in the right direction. They help to reduce the risks of incidents and accidents.”

However, just days after the conciliatory move, Turkey has once again opted for confrontation.

A Turkish naval maritime notice issued late on Saturday declared that the Oruc Reis along with two other ships, the Ataman and the Cengiz Han, will continue exploratory activities to the south of the Greek island of Rhodes until the 4th of November. A previous notice had scheduled survey work in the area to wind up on 27 October.

The Greek foreign ministry said it would file a complaint following the new advisory, which it said involved an area within the Greek continental shelf.

It further stated that the extension of the Oruc Reis’s survey was an “illegal move” at odds with efforts to ease tensions and with the recent conclusions of the council of EU heads of government.

“Greece blatantly condemns this unacceptable behaviour, which is essentially moving even further away from the prospect of a constructive dialogue,” the ministry said in a statement, calling for the advisory to be revoked immediately.

It said Turkey was behaving “like a pariah,” seeking to destabilise the region, stoke tensions and defy international law. LINK

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