BRUSSELS -- Turkish provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean where it claims waters around Greek islands will go unpunished because it’s an important trade partner and needed by NATO.
That was the message from the European Union, which for a third time set aside talks of sanctions - this time with approval from Greece from wanting them - and as Germany blocked penalties and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Turkey is needed in NATO, even while violating Greek airspace and waters.
EU leaders were holding a three-day teleconference and while said to be upset with Turkey, including for pulling out of the Istanbul Convention, aimed at protecting women from violence, said they won’t do anything about it.
Germany is home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage and also is a major arms supplier to Turkey as well as Greece and reportedly had pushed for Turkey not to be squeezed, fearing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would again unleash refugees and migrants on the EU through Greece and its islands.
The EU and US have given Greece backing in press releases and tweets after Erdogan complained European leaders were siding with Greece, a member of the bloc that Turkey has fruitlessly been trying to join since 2005.
The EU foreign chief, Josep Borrell, issued a report that went easy on Turkey, saying only that sanctions could be revisited if provocations pick up again, with Erdogan planning to drill for oil and gas off Greek waters, saying sanctions won’t stop him.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who in October, 2020 insisted on sanctions, pulled back from them as Greece and Turkey have been talking tenderly and was said to have gone along with a more moderate approach for now.
Almost immediately after Erdogan appeared to have scored a big win after a charm offensive with EU leaders, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said while the Borrel report was “positive in principle” it had ignored Turkish violations.
Those include, he said according to Kathimerini, Turkey threatening a conflict with Greece, drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus, reopening a closed beach at the abandoned resort of Varosha on the island in Turkish-occupied territory and violating the United Nations Law of the Sea that Turkey refuses to recognize.
NOT SO FAST
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas defended what Mitsotakis earlier had called appeasement of Erdogan after reports said other EU countries dealing with big trade with Turkey didn’t want the bloc to go tough.
“There is de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean, (but) .. the pullout of the Istanbul Convention (and closing the pro-Kurdish HDP party) are certainly the wrong signals,” Haas said, Reuters reported.
“Regarding Turkey, there is light and shadow,” Maas said. “We will have to discuss these mixed signals coming from Turkey today, and we will continue to aim for an ongoing dialogue – and we will use this dialogue to address issues where we believe Turkey is sending the wrong signals,” he said in diplomatic language not to offend.
“We will therefore keep the prepared sanctions on the table, and we reserve the right to impose them should Turkey steer away from the constructive course which it has taken lately with regard to specific topics with the EU,” he added.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister said Turkey’s actions were unacceptable even as they won’t be answered.
“This is a way back into the Middle Ages, this is not the way that we need to see to rebuild a normal relationship with Turkey,” he said but there were no plans to take any action against Turkey, said the news agency.
Asked what it would take for the EU to waver from its moderate approach, a senior EU diplomat said: “Something very close to a military incident, or a dramatic change in Berlin’s approach,” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel treading softly.
Germany is seen as gaining most from an update of the migrant deal with Turkey, having seen an influx of 890,000 migrants in 2015, many of them passing through Turkey on their way, the report added.
While ties between the United States and Greece at a high under the ruling New Democracy government - just as the US said they were with the previous ruling Radical Left SYRIZA - Turkey still got a pass.
Blinken said that, despite public differences with Turkey, the United States and NATO had a strong interest in keeping Turkey anchored in the alliance after Washington complained Turkey’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile systems undermined NATO and threatened Greece.
“Turkey is a long-standing and valued ally,” Blinken told an event at NATO headquarters, saying it was also in Turkey’s interest to remain in the alliance although the US barred Turkey from buying American-made F-35 fighter jets because of buying the missile defenses from the alliance’s ideological enemy.