ATHENS -- European Union foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell heard first-hand from Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias about Turkish provocations while the two visited the border between the countries.
Dendias said Turkey was undermining stability and security in the eastern Mediterranean and been troublesome not just with Greece but other neighboring countries while repeatedly violating Greek airspace and waters almost daily.
Earlier this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had some 10,000 migrants bused to the Kastanies border spot near the Evros River and urged them to cross, upset the European Union hadn’t fulfilled all the terms of a 2016 refugee and migrant swap deal.
Turkey is holding some 5.5 million people who fled war and strife in their homelands and is supposed to contain them under the agreement but has let human traffickers keep flooding nearby Greek islands and pushing them to cross the land border, violating the terms.
Dendias described the action as “the exploitation, on the part of Turkey, of the hopes of tens of thousands of civilians for a better life ... misled through a disinformation campaign orchestrated by Turkish officials at the highest level.”
“It’s very clear that we are determined to protect the external borders of the European Union and to strongly support Greece’s sovereignty,” Borrell said.
Noting Turkey’s plans to drill for energy off Crete and claiming Greek waters and parts of the Continental Shelf under a maritime deal Turkey signed with Libya dividing the seas between them, Dendias said Ankara must “abstain from its illegal gunboat diplomacy.”
Borrell said his visit to Greece had been planned but moved ahead after recent incidents involving Turkey "in order to show our solidarity and to show how much we share your concerns.”
Greece and Turkey are also in dispute over oil and gas exploratory drilling rights in the Mediterranean, with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt outraged at a Turkish agreement with the United Nations-recognized government in Libya laying claim to rights of a swathe of the Mediterranean that they say infringes on their sovereign rights.
Borrell said he and Dendias had discussed the deteriorating relations with Turkey and “about how we can stop the dynamics of escalation,” but didn’t reveal it as the EU has been reluctant to confront Erdogan, fearful he will unleash more migrants and refugees.
The EU will protect its external borders and Greece’s territory, Borrell said, although it hasn’t gone so far as to stop Turkey’s hopes of joining the bloc and he didn’t say what else could be done with Erdogan continuing to ignore pleas to stop the tension.
“Greek concerns identify with the concerns of the EU…It is clear that we are determined to protect the EU's external borders and to strongly support Greece's sovereignty,” he said, adding that Greece’s borders are also EU borders.
The EU has issued only soft sanctions against some Turkish officials, including the state-turn oil company that is drilling off Cyprus, but exempted Erdogan, who is allowed to come to Brussels.
Dendias said that after a brief respite while countries dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, “Turkey has once again declared that its land borders to Europe are open. At the same time, its coast guard escorts boats laden with migrants to the Greek islands. But it also persists in undermining security and stability, as well as peace, in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
He accused Turkey of “continuously violating the sovereignty of Libya, Syria, Iraq and our EU partner, the Republic of Cyprus. It is violating almost daily Greece’s national airspace and territorial waters, including overflights of inhabited areas here in Evros and the Aegean Sea by armed warplanes.”
He said that while Greece was “open to dialogue” to resolve differences with its neighbor, “we are not prepared to discuss under duress or help legitimize Turkey’s persistent violations of legality.”
“I think this is in our interests and the interests of the European Union, Turkey and Greece to try to solve the current difficulties and improve the current relations,” he said.
NATO allies and neighbors Greece and Turkey have long had difficult relations, and the two countries have come to the brink of war three times since the 1970s. Divided over a series of issues, including territorial disputes in the Aegean, relations have become increasingly strained in the recent months.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)