ATHENS — Two days after the European Union backed away from sanctions over Turkey’s hunt for oil and gas off Greek islands, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government demanded Greece removes any military forces from six islands.
Those are Samothrace, Lemnos, Tilos, Halki as well as Chios and Samos, where refugees and migrants who came from Turkey – where they went fleeing war, strife and economic hardships in their homelands – are being held in camps.
At the same time, the Turkish research vessel the Oruc Reis, which has been in and out of Greek waters around the island of Kastellorizo on an energy hunt, was reported to be moving again in Turkey’s waters.
Erdogan pulled the ships and warships away from Kastellorizo ahead of the EU showdown where the bloc’s leaders pulled back from sanctions that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wanted imposed after earlier reversing course on that to give diplomacy a chance.
Erdogan had previously used the same tactic of putting Turkish ships near Kastellorizo only to withdraw them as the EU said it would get tough and then send them back when it didn’t, a move Greece had warned was a ruse.
EU leaders have been reluctant to provoke Erdogan, fearful he will flood the bloc – through Greece and its islands – with more refugees and migrants and because some countries such as Germany and Spain have big economic ties to Turkey which also benefits from being able to buy arms that could be used against Greece.
After he changed his mind and wanted sanctions, Mitsotakis then said he was satisfied they weren’t imposed and claimed that the EU’s freezing of assets on some Turkish officials not named was a stern warning, which Erdogan dismissed.
The EU leaders also were said to be waiting for President-elect Joe Biden to take office in the United States, expecting him to take a harder line with Turkey than did President Donald Trump, who is tight with Erdogan.
While the EU hasn’t shown the political will to confront Erdogan, the US is looking at more sanctions after Turkey bought a Russian-made S-400 missile defense system that could be used against Greece in a conflict and undermines the security of NATO, the defense alliance to which all three countries belong.
There is worry in Greece that an emboldened Erdogan, after getting the EU to back off, might step up provocations and aggressions, believing he is essentially untouchable and politically bullet-proof.
Greek officials not named, the paper said, are most anxious he will authorize energy exploration off Kastellorizo and Greek islands and especially where the continental shelves of Greece, Turkey and Cyprus meet.
Turkey is also drilling for oil and gas in Cypriot waters, ignoring soft EU sanctions against two unnamed executives of Turkey’s state-run petroleum company, exempting Erdogan or any Turkish political leaders.
The EU in October delayed any talk of sanctions after Mitsotakis said he would withhold his call for penalties so there could be negotiations over sea boundaries after Turkey claimed Greek waters under a maritime deal with Libya no other country recognizes.
Greece countered with a similar agreement with Egypt that led Erdogan to call off talks planned for Ankara, not Athens, and as soon as the EU went easy, he sent the Oruc Reis and warships back off Kastellorizo.
Turkey has been demanding Greece remove troops from islands near Turkey's coast, including some of those that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants returned.
They were ceded away in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that Turkey doesn't recognize unless invoking to its advantage as some Turkish officials have openly called for them to be invaded and seized.