ANKARA — Feeling triumphant after the European Union backed off its promise for sanctions over Turkish drilling in Cypriot waters and hunting for energy off Greek islands, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said their next meeting in March won’t touch him either.
The EU had backed off talk of sanctions in October – after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakos withdrew his demand for penalties to give diplomacy a chance – with hopes of talks over seas boundaries in the Aegean and East Mediterranean.
Instead, Erdogan sent an energy research vessel and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, only to withdraw them before the Dec. 10-11 EU meeting despite Greece warning it was a ruse and as he said he would send them back in again, a tactic that keeps working.
The EU said it would talk again about sanctions in March, giving Turkey another three months to keep drilling unlawfully in Cypriot waters and undeterred in Greek waters although the Greek Navy is shadowing Turkish vessels, bringing fears of a conflict.
Erdogan said, without naming them, that “reasonable countries” had blocked Greece and Cyprus, referring to Germany and Spain which wouldn’t support sanctions for economic reasons.
Germany is home to 2.74 million people of Turkish heritage and a major arms suppliers to Turkey, including components for submarines that could be used against Greece. Spain has major economic interests in Turkey.
Turkey has been drilling in Cypriot waters in defiance of soft EU penalties against two executives of the state-run oil company but reluctant to do more.
“Our rights must be granted. There are now many rights that EU member states must grant Turkey,” Erdogan told reporters, said Reuters, indicating that he’s now likely to make even more demands after the EU tried more appeasement.
He earlier said any sanctions the EU might impose – which would exempt him – wouldn’t work anyway and the bloc this time said it would freeze the assets of some unnamed Turkish officials but not do anything more for now.
Greece’s former ruling and now major opposition SYRIZA mocked Mitsotakis and his New Democracy government for the failure to get sanctions after the Greek leader said the EU had to send a clear message against aggression.
In a statement, SYRIZA said instead that the EU “once again sent a clear message that they will tolerate Turkish aggression.
SYRIZA leader and former premier Alexis Tsipras had also been unable to get Turkey to stop provocations, which wasn’t mentioned in the statement in which it blamed Mitsotakis for the timid EU response.
SYRIZA also criticized the EU for “failing to support a member state and negotiate effectively with a strong neighboring state,” and favoring Turkey, Erdogan having threatened to unleash more refugees and migrants who went to his country on the bloc – through Greece – if he didn’t get his way.
“The need to return to a composed national strategy on Greek-Turkish relations is greater than ever in light of Mitsotakis’ dire diplomatic failure, the major international developments, and changes in the region set to take place in 2021,” said SYRIZA.
Turkey has been trying to join the EU since 2005, the prospects dimming under the authoritarian rule of Erdogan, who purged civil society, the military, educational system, judiciary and jailed dozens of journalists after a failed 2016 coup attempt against him.
NATO, the defense alliance to which both countries belong and had refused to intervene in repeated Turkish violations of Greek airspace and waters also urged the EU to go soft on Turkey, citing its geopolitical advantages.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, who admitted he wanted no part of the Greece-Turkey feuding, told EU leaders ahead of the meeting to remember Turkey’s importance to the defense alliance and the west.
“We need to make sure that we realize the importance of Turkey as part of NATO and also as part of the Western family,” said Stoltenberg who did nothing to stop Turkish provocations against Greece, a member of the western family. He said any disputes between members of the alliance could be resolved through dialogue which failed outright.
“NATO is a platform where also we can discuss an open way when there are differences, disagreements between allies as we see, for instance, in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said, not backing Greece against Turkey’s plans to continue to drill for energy.
“At the same time, I think we all have to look for positive approaches, ways to address the differences,” he said, without recommending any, said Kathimerini as he said that, “All allies realize that Turkey is an important ally, because they border Iraq and Syria,” opening the door for Erdogan to do what he wants.