Spurning Turkey, Russia Backs Greece's 12-Mile Nautical Waters Plan

Αssociated Press

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov listens his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias during their meeting in Athens, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Costas Baltas/Pool via AP)

Despite selling an S-400 missile defense system to Turkey, Russia is siding with Greece's plan to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles even as a Turkish energy ship and warships were near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

Ahead of his planned trip to Athens, , Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Greece's state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA) that ever country has a 12-mile right to it waters, although some Greek islands are within sight of Turkey's coast on the facing side.

Lavrov said that right is based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982, to which Russia is a signatory, but which Turkey is not, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan however invoking it from time to time when it's to his country's advantage.

With Greek and Turkish warships shadowing each other in the East Mediterranean and fears of a conflict, Lavros said any issues around the delimitation of the continental shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) should be resolved on the basis of law.

After Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis pulled back his insistence that the European Union sanction Turkey for its drilling plans, Erdogan seized the moment to send back his ships.

That led Greece to refuse to take part in planned talks set for Ankara, not Athens, as Erdogan also said he wants to put other issues on the table, including demanding rights for a Turkish minority in northern Greece and demanding Greece remove troops from Greek islands near Turkey.

Erdogan has also upped the tension to play to his hard-core nationalist base, including changing the ancient revered church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople into a mosque.

Lavros said that move to change the status of  UNESCO world heritage site was unfortunate, saying the church belongs to humanity and has "exceptional cultural and historic value", while it is sacred to those of the Orthodox faith.

He also expressed "serious concern" over Turkey's decision to open up the beach front in Varosha in the occupied northern part of Cyprus in defiance of United Nations resolutions, a move he said undermines any hopes of resuming reunification talks on the divided island.

Russia, however – like the United States – is trying to walk a delicate tightrope protecting its interests with both Turkey and Greece, selling Turkey the missile defenses that could be used against Greece and undermines NATO, while now backing Greece in its ongoing seas dispute.