ATHENS – NATO is paying a price for refusing to intervene over constant Turkish violations of Greek airspace and waters without consequences, Greece warning Turkey's plan to drill for energy in Greek waters is undercutting the defense alliance.
Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said the “illegal” behavior of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean was threatening the stability of NATO and Turkey's hopes of joining the European Union, stalled for 15 years.
Greece is also upset that Turkey is drilling for oil and gas in Cypriot waters – Turkey doesn't recognize the legitimate government there, a member of the EU – and with frequent Turkish testing of relations with Greece.
“The illegal and provocative behavior of Turkey has a serious backlash not only to peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean but to the cohesion of NATO and to its relations with the European Union,” Dendias said after a meeting with his German counterpart Heiko Maas in Athens.
Turkey must stop drilling for natural resources in waters in the Eastern Mediterranean if there is to be progress in EU-Turkey ties, Maas said.
The US State Department urged Turkey to back off although President Donald Trump said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a good friend of his and praised him as a “hell of leader” and is said to offer the Turkish leader frequent favors to placate him.
“We urge Turkish authorities to halt any plans for operations and to avoid steps that raise tensions in the region,” the State Department spokesperson said but in an apparent nod to Turkey, said the area south and east of the Greek island of Kastellorizo are “disputed waters.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier that Turkey would start seismic research and drilling operations in Greek waters that Turkey disputes, including now off Kastellorizo, Rhodes and Karpathos, putting the Greek military on high alert.
The European Commission also backed Greece but only in a statement and has refused to issue sanctions against Turkey for its provocations with Greece after issuing only soft sanctions for Turkish drilling in Cypriot waters.
“Turkey’s announcement of a new Navtex for seismic research in the eastern Mediterranean is not useful and sends the wrong message,” Commission spokesperson Nabila Massrali was quoted by Cypriot media as saying, while urging Turkey to take any disputes it may have to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Greece is pressing other EU member states to prepare “crippling sanctions” against Turkey if it proceeds with its oil and gas exploration plans but the EU's response has to suggest that perhaps there could be delicate talks sometime in the future despite fears shooting could start before then.