ANKARA – While claiming he wants better relations with Greece, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he will get more aggressive in the Aegean, where fighter jets from his country repeatedly violate Greek airspace and Turkish warships are trying to keep foreign energy companies from drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus.
“We will pursue an active policy and strengthen our presence in all areas with problems that affect our national interests,” Erdogan said, reissuing a warning he gave earlier, that Turkey plans its own drilling for oil and gas in Greek and Cypriot waters.
Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus, a member of the European Union that Erdogan wants his country to join, and bars its ships and planes. Nor does Turkey recognize all of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
He has demanded Cyprus’ legitimate government share with Turkish-Cypriots a share of any potentially lucrative energy finds – to which Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades agreed. But Erdogan said he also wants the Turkish-Cypriot side, occupied unlawfully since a 1974 invasion, to take part in the decisions for drilling.
He earlier said that Turkey will buy a second drilling vessel for explorations in order to “triple our efforts to get maximum benefits from hydrocarbon reserves in the sea,” in Cypriot waters.
That came just as tensions had eased a bit with Greece after Turkey released two Greek soldiers who had accidentally crossed the border March 1 while on patrol in bad weathers, holding them more than five months.
Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said they were being held hostage as bargaining chips to force Greece to return eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum after fleeing a failed coup against Erdogan in July, 2016, in which they denied taking any part.
There will be a key test when Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias meets Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Davusoglu on Sept. 4.