GR US

The Guns of October: Greek, Turkish Warships Sea Standoff

Αssociated Press

Στις τουρκικές ακτές κοντά στην Αττάλεια ένα εμπορικό πλοίο (δεξιά) προσπερνά το ερευνητικό Oruc Reis, Πέμπτη 23 Ιουλίου, 2020. (Ibrahim Laleli/DHA via AP)

With the European Union, NATO, the United States and United Nations only watching, Greek naval vessels lined up against Turkish warships near the Greek island of Kastellorizo where Turkey is conducting energy research, raising fears of a shooting conflict, accidental or otherwise.

Tension spiked over the standoff that came days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent the energy research vessel the Oruc Reis and warships near Greek waters after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pulled back demands for EU sanctions to give diplomacy a chance.

Caught off guard by Erdogan seizing the the moment – undeterred by sanctions – Mitsotakis called off planned talks about sea boundaries that were going to be held in Ankara, not Athens, although it's been Turkey bringing provocations.

The Oruc Reis, said Kathimerini, was less than 9 nautical miles from Kastellorizo with Greece planning to expand its seas limit to 12 miles. The island is less than two miles from the Turkish coast at its closest point.

Greece countered by sending part of its fleet to the 6-mile limit for now, the distance between the warships negligible given their firing power, with Mitsotakis also working to build an international alliance against Turkey to isolate Erdogan.

The Hellenic National Defense General Staff (GEETHA) is trying to prevent a repeat of an incident in the summer when a Greek and Turkish frigate collided during an earlier standoff.

A series of photos was leaked by GEETHA, showing Greek warships in the area, while in the more distant shots, a very dense formation of Turkish naval ships around the Oruc Reis is visible.

This dense formation indicates that, within the 12 nautical miles limit, the Oruc Reis would not have been able to proceed with seismic surveys. The leak was also intended to show that Greece will defend its rights militarily, if needed, the paper also said.

The EU has given Turkey until the end of the year to reach a resolution with Greece or possibly face sanctions that were reportedly being blocked by Spain, Italy and Germany, home to 2.774 million people of Turkish origin.

EU leaders are reluctant to confront Erdogan, fearful he will unleash on the bloc through Greek islands more refugees and migrants who went to Turkey fleeing war, strife and economic hardships in their homelands, especially Afghanistan and Syria. 

Not wanting to fire first against Turkey, fearing Erdogan is setting a trap to goad just that to justify a military response, Greece is reaching out with letters instead to allies, partners and international organizations, the paper said.

The last step would be to go to the UN Security Council which has shown no interest in getting in Erdogan's way nor or doing anything to prevent a conflict apart from urging diplomacy from both.