ATHENS – After reportedly being at the brink of a battle – or war – with Turkey, Greece's New Democracy government warned that if a Turkish energy research vessel enters waters around Greek islands there would be a response, suggesting military force.
Greek military sources told the newspaper Kathimerini that if cables of the Turkish Oruc Reis seismic research vessel touch the Greek Continental Shelf, Turkey will have the “complete and exclusive” responsibility for what will follow.
That came after Turkey issued a so-called NAVTEX reserving waters around the Greek islands of Kastellorizo, Karpathos and Rhodes for the Oruc Reis which plans to conduct seismic surveys to check for the potential for oil and gas.
Turkey is already operating in Cypriot sovereign waters, undeterred by soft sanctions from the European Union exempting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his top officials, apparently emboldening him to make a move on Greece.
Turkey signed a maritime deal with Libya – unrecognized by any other country – dividing the seas between them and Erdogan said his country's drilling plans would also extend to Greece's biggest island of Crete, just offshore.
Greece's Armed Forces were put on high alert, the newspaper said, Greece apparently prepared to do battle, unlike Cyprus which is no match for Turkey and with the EU without any military force and unsure how to handle Erdogan.
Turkey has sent two-thirds of its fleet to the Aegean and East Mediterranean, the move coming almost at the same time Turkey was celebrating the 46th anniversary of its unlawful invasion in 1974 of Cyprus, where it still occupies the northern third.
Turkey also heightened tension at the same time it offered diplomacy and negotiations – without offering any concessions or backing down from its hard line – and with the two countries previously having discussed so-called Confidence Building Measures.
The aggression also came a couple of weeks after Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis talked on the phone – the details weren't revealed – but the conversation coming after the two countries have broken off official channels.
Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin said that, “Greece’s reaction was excessive” when the NAVTEX was issued for the Oruc Reis, although it wasn't explained as Turkey would be entering Greek waters which it Turkey disputes, backed by the United States.
Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Thursday
“They reacted as if a military maneuver had taken place,” Kalin said during an online event organized by the Brussels-based European Policy Center, adding that Turkey didn't want military or political tension that it keeps provoking.
Kalinaccused Greece of adopting “maximalist” claims in the region, adding that the Greek island of Kastellorizo, being 2 kilometers away from the Turkish mainland and 580 kilometers off the Greek coast, could not generate continental shelf rights although it's a border just like the land borders with Turkey.
Erdogan doesn't recognize the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne which set boundaries between the countries and as he has openly said he covets return of Greek islands, some of which he said are so close to Turkey he could shout to them.
Mitsotakis held meetings with party leaders to brief them on the European Council meeting which led only to the bloc's leaders suggesting more failed diplomacy and being delicate with Erdogan, fearful he will flood the EU with more refugees and migrants through Greece's land borders and islands.
Major opposition Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, ousted by New Democracy and Mitsotakis in July 7, 2019 snap elections, said Greece's top defense advisory board KYSEA should meet and said Turkey should be deterred from entering Greek waters.
“We hope the threats do not materialize,” he told journalists after his meeting with Mitsotakis, briefed about development with Turkey.
Tsipras said there has been a “dangerous escalation of Turkish aggression” in the past eight months, a sideways shot at Mitsotakis' government although the Leftist leader had also handled Erdogan with kid gloves during SYRIZA's 4 ½ years in power.
Tsipras said he advised Mitsotakis to intensify talks with Egypt on the delimitation of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) if this cannot be achieved, to extend Greece’s territorial waters south and east of Crete to 12 nautical miles from six miles.
Germany has jumped into the fray with Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer saying her country is trying to broker calmer waters between Greece and Turkey over the seas.
“It is no coincidence that the Chancellor (Angela Merkel) in particular intervened or was called upon to intervene,” she said referring to the telephone calls Merkel reportedly made Mitsotakis and Erdogan to reportedly stave off a war.
French President Emmanuel Macron repeated his support for Greece and Cyprus after meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades whose pleas to the EU to take a stronger stand have been ignored.
“I want to reiterate France’s full solidarity with Cyprus, but also with Greece, in the face of Turkey’s violation of their sovereignty,” said Macron, who said the EU would be making a big mistake if no sanctions are brought against Turkey.