Feeling the heat of potential European Union sanctions, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country's future is in the bloc it's been trying fruitlessly to join since 2005 even as he kept up provocations by having an energy research vessel and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis pulled back his insistence on sanctions to give diplomacy a chance, which instantly failed when Erdogan – who had withdrawn his ships – sent them back again.
The EU said it won't even consider sanctions until the year's end and Mitsotakis, despite fears there could be a conflict – with Turkey testing a Russian S-400 missile defense system – hasn't pushed for them to be imposed before then.
Erdogan's contradictory positions – he said he wants dialogue over boundaries in the Aegean and East Mediterranean but won't take his ships out – has left the EU and Greece uncertain what to do.
The bloc's leaders have been reluctant go get tough, fearing Erdogan will send more refugees and migrants – through Greece and its islands – into the EU after they had gone to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their homelands and economic misery in other places, especially sub-Saharan Africa.
“We expect the EU to keep its promises, not to discriminate against us or at least not to become a tool to open enmities targeting our country,” Erdogan said in a video address to his ruling party congress, reported Al Jazeera.
“We don’t see ourselves elsewhere but in Europe,” he added. “We envisage building our future together with Europe,” he said although he purged civil society after a failed July, 2016 coup attempt against him and has jailed journalists by the dozens and nearly shut down all free speech.
And only a few hours after he seemed to reach out and be conciliatory, Turkey extended its hunt for energy in Greek waters until Nov. 29, the research vessel the Oruc Reis and warships being shadowed by the Greek Navy off Kastellorizo.
Greece and Turkey dispute the extent of their continental shelves and their claims to hydrocarbon resources in the region, the news site said, and the United States has supported both, agreeing with Turkey the waters are disputed.
Greece said Turkey is breaking international law by being in Greek waters and has been urging the EU to reconsider its customs union to punish Turkey’s “imperial fantasies,” but hasn't used force, with worries of a conflict high.
Turkey insists it is within its rights in the energy-rich Mediterranean region, saying not all Greeks islands are large enough to count when it comes to delineating the extent of Greek sovereignty, the site added.
Erdogan also said Turkey wanted to “actively use its long and close alliance relations with the United States for a solution to regional and global problems,” US President Donald Trump being a friend but Turkey barred from buying US-made F-35 fighter jets after purchasing the Russian missile defenses.
The S-400 would compromise NATO, the defense alliance to which the US, Turkey and Greece belong, and could be used against Greece if battles break out, Turkish fighter jets repeatedly violating Greek airspace.
Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that EU membership remains a strategic priority for Turkey even though the President's near-dictatorial rule is at odds with the bloc's alleged support for human rights and the rule of law.
Kalin urged EU leaders to ditch their ideological and political biases and see relations with Turkey through a “strategic mindset,” said Kathimerini.
He added that Turkey was ready to again talk with Greece about seas boundaries at the same time Turkish ships remain in Greek waters, seeming to test the waters about what might happen at a critical Dec. 10 EU meeting about Turkey.