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Russia Offers to Broker Greece-Turkey Tension Talks, NATO too

Αssociated Press

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov adjusts an earpiece as his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides talks to the media during a press conference at the foreign ministry house in Nicosia, Cyprus, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

At the same time it's selling S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey that could be used against Greece and NATO, Russia – trying to expand its influence in the East Mediterranean – offered to try to reduce tensions between Athens and Ankara.

Meanwhile, talks between Greek and Turkish officials at NATO – the defense alliance to which both belong - were set for Sept. 10 after Greece said it hadn't agreed to them, no word on why there was a change of heart.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the offer as Greece and Turkey are at a near-conflict point over Turkey sending an energy research vessel and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo to drill for oil and gas.

That was done under a maritime deal with Libya dividing the seas between them that no other country recognizes, driving Greece to make a similar agreement with Egypt.

That led Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to cancel planned joint talks in Ankara and to send the ships back near Greek waters after he had earlier yanked them after being persuaded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Lavrov said Russia is monitoring the situation in the region and would help start a “genuine dialogue” with all parties that would generate “mutually acceptable solutions,” ahead of Sept. 24-25 European Union meeting with Erdogan.

The EU, which has been reluctant to confront him in fear he will unleash more refugees and migrants on the bloc through Greek islands after they had gone to his country fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, said Turkey could now face sanctions unless it pulls back or works with Greece.

Lavrov was speaking after a meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Russia wanting to play peacemaker there too over Turkish drilling.

Lavrov said Moscow was ready to help mediate in any talks with Turkey over energy exploration in the East Mediterranean Sea, the news agency Reuters reported on the move.

Turkey doesn't recognize parts of Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and sent ships there near where foreign companies have been licensed to hunt as well, Turkey and Turkish-Cypriots wanting a stake in the growing hunt for lucrative energy fields.

“As far as your relations with Turkey are concerned, we are ready to promote dialogue, pragmatically based on mutual interests and in search of decisions, which will be fair and based on international law,” Lavrov said.

“Russia considers any steps that could lead to a further escalation of tensions (in the East Mediterranean) unacceptable,” he later added in a news conference without noting Russia's influence on the island where many Russian wealthy do their banking and Russian ships allowed to dock.

The northern third of the island has been occupied by Turkish-Cypriots since an unlawful 1974 Turkish invasion and the last round of reunification talks collapsed in July 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.

That happened after Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they would never remove a 35,000-strong army there, and wanted the right of military intervention as well as taking part in Cyprus licensing foreign companies to hunt for oil and gas.

NATO's “military de-confliction” talks were announced by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to try to calm the waters over Turkey making a move into waters that Greece claims.

The Greek and Turkish navies are warily watching each other in the East Mediterranean and both conducted military exercises, Greece supported by Cyprus, Israel, Italy and Egypt while Turkey said it has the backing of Russia, which would mean Moscow isn't impartial in the imbroglio.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Greece of backtracking on an agreement to hold technical talks, said Kathimerini, discussions aimed at reestablishing broken lines of communication to prevent a hot incident.

“If Greece believes in itself, if it has the courage and trusts its thesis, then ... let it come and sit at the table,” Cavusoglu told a news conference in Ankara but Greece said any discussion requires the departure of Turkish vessels from disputed waters, and a Greek source told Reuters their presence was causing tensions and a “concentration of a great number of military forces in the area.”