Showing no signs of backing down on his plan to drill for energy off Greek islands, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also stepped up threats and took aim at the European Union and France for getting involved.
Erdogan, who has alternated between offering dialogue and using military might to get what he wants, said Turkey will not be kept from exploring waters off its coast even if they are around Greek islands, particularly Kastellorizo.
That is about one mile from the Turkish mainland and one of those islands that he openly said he wants returned among those ceded to Greece in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he doesn't recognize.
He lashed out at Greece and EU leaders over “The plans of those who try to lock a country of 780,000 square kilometers (301,160 square miles)to its shores using an island of 10 square kilometers in the eastern Aegean,” an apparent reference to Kastellorizo.
He fired away a few days after speaking with European Council President Charles Michel who said unless Turkey pulls its ships or negotiates with Greece there will be sanctions on the table at a Sept. 24-25 EU-Turkey summit.
Erdogan also had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who in August got him to withdraw his ships before they were sent back in after Greece made a seas boundaries deal with Egypt.
That was in response to Turkey making a maritime deal with Libya dividing the seas between them and claiming parts of Greece's Continental Shelf and planning drilling for oil and gas off islands including Crete.
With Greek warships shadowing Turkish warships near Kastellorizo, the threat of a conflict in the East Mediterranean has risen, especially with Turkey continuing to drill off Cyprus, unhindered by soft EU sanctions.
Turkey also has conducted naval exercises in the region as has Greece, joined by France, Italy, Cyprus and the United Arab Emirates, further angering Erdogan who canceled planned talks in Ankara with Greek officials after the Greece-Egypt deal, with no other country recognizing the Turkey-Libya pact.
“Those who are asserting themselves to us, when the time comes, I hope they do not pay a heavy price,” Erdogan said in comments after a cabinet meeting that were seen as also targeting France, said Kathimerini.
Turkey’s pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper reported that the next “stop” of the Oruc Reis research vessel that was sent off Kastellorizo will be in Greece's Continental Shelf there and off Rhodes, setting the stage for a showdown.
Michel, who has been reluctant to provoke Erdogan, the EU fearing the Turkish leader will flood the bloc with more refugees and migrants through Greece's border and islands, also spoke with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
As usual, Michel said the EU had “full solidarity” with Greece although it has so far refused to issue sanctions for the Turkish provocations, which include repeatedly sending fighter jets and warships into Greek airspace and waters.
Michel, who also spoke with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades whose similar pleas for tougher sanctions on Turkey have fallen on deaf ears, is due to meet Mitsotakis in Athens on Sept. 15.
The Greek leader and French President Emmanuel Macron plan to meet on the island of Corsica on Sept. 10 to discuss the approach to Turkey's growing belligerence and France's aligning itself with Greece.
That will come ahead of a meeting of the so-called Med7 countries that include Portugal, Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Malta with worries that a Greece-Turkey conflict could engulf the Mediterranean and region.
Mitsotakis and Macron will also talk about a defense procurement deal in which Greece is interested in buying 18-20 Rafale fighter jets as well as frigates to upgdrade its navy and military against Turkey.
Meanwhile, 14 Turkish aircraft violated Greek airspace six times on Sept. 7 during flights over the northeastern and central Aegean, according to the Hellenic National Defence General Staff (GEETHA).
The six F-16 fighter jets, two CN-235 and six helicopters also violated air traffic rules 11 times, leading Greek pilots to engage in mock dogfights four times, a frequent occurrence as NATO, the defense alliance to which both belong, has refused to intervene.