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Politics

COVID-19 Waning, Turkey Plans Energy Drilling Off Greek Islands

The ending of lockdowns aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus is leading Turkey to step up plans to send ships off Greek islands to look for energy, including Rhodes and Crete.

In a report, Kathimerini said the New Democracy government is girding for more provocations after Turkey signed a deal with Libya dividing the seas between them and publishing a map claiming 24 plots where Turkey's state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) would drill for oil and gas as it's doing off Cyprus.

Based on Turkish law, TPAO could begin drilling in about three months, making September the likely target which could create a flash point as Greece has so far depended on diplomacy that failed to move Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Greek newspaper said it was told by sources not identified that Turkey is expected to begin exploratory research off Crete but not within Greece's six nautical mile boundary and sovereign waters.

Based on the schedule of TPAO, it is clear that both the Barbaros and Oruc Reis research vessels will be mobilized as early as August, the paper said, with Greece expected to send warships into the waters.

Greece also reportedly wants to work with allies, including France – the French energy company Total is licensed to drill off Cyprus – to establish an international military presence in the region where Turkey said it would send warships. 

Increasing the pressure, Turkey is also expected to again violate an already essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union and try to flood the bloc with more refugees and migrants through Greece's land border and islands near Turkey. 

Turkey is supposed to hold some 5.5 million refugees, including 3.3 million from Syria's civil war, under the deal but Erdogan, upset that the EU is holding back 3 billion euros ($3.38 billion) in aid, earlier this year sent 10,000 migrants to the land border by the Evros River and tried to get them to cross into Greece.

That was stymied when Greece closed its side of the border and sent riot police and Army units to repeal anyone who tried to cross by land or over the river, where treacherous currents have claimed the lives of many migrants and refugees.

Greece and Turkey have closed some diplomatic channels and communications, raising the chance of an accidental conflict although the paper said that the United States is trying to keep the lines open, caught between supporting both countries.

Other considerations are Turkey's battered economy and being hard hit by COVID-19 while Erdogan is dealing with growing domestic problems and turning toward international provocations in what critics said is an attempt at distraction.

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