The roller coaster ride of Greece-Turkey's fractured relations took a free falling dip after Turkey extended the mission of its energy research vessel the Oruc Reis near Greek waters around the island of Kastellorizo, bringing new conflict fears.
Greece responded with an Air Force exercise over a large area from the south of Kassos to the south of Kastellorizo, said Kathimerini, including in areas reserved by Turkey, which disputes parts of Greece's Continental Shelf.
That came at a delicate time as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was headed to Athens and Ankara for talks aimed at reducing the tension although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted angrily to Greece's move.
The volatile Erdogan, unchecked by a timid European Union which refused Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' request for sanctions on Turkey, said Greece is being “deceived” by other countries with which it's trying to build alliances.
“When an issue arises in the future, then these forces will disappear and Greece will be left alone,” he said, adding that “from now on, Greece will be responsible for all conflicts in the region and it will be at a disadvantage.”
He also described the aeronautical exercise announced by Greece as “useless” and dangerous for navigation although Turkey has conducted military exercises in the seas under its Blue Homeland scheme.
Indeed, just before Erdogan spoke, Turkey said it would hold more exercises off Crete where it plans to drill for oil and gas under a maritime deal with Libya dividing the seas between them.
Greece countered with a similar deal with Egypt, setting seas boundaries and marking Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) for energy hunts, prompting Erdogan to cancel planned talks with Greek officials in Ankara.
A major naval exercise will take place including Greece, France, Italy and Cyprus in the wider Eastern Mediterranean region near where Turkey has been drilling already for oil and gas in Cypriot waters.
The cranked-up tension led Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos and his British counterpart UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace to join in taking sides against Turkey's plans, which the UK minister said he would inform Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, the paper said.
“The extended presence of Turkish ships makes a de-escalation impossible, raises the risk of an accident and has a destabilizing effect in the broader region,” Panagiotopoulos was quoted by sources as telling Wallace.
The Greek defense minister also reiterated Greece’s readiness to engage in a dialogue with Turkey, “within the framework of the rules of international law” and only on the condition that “Turkey’s warships and research vessel are withdrawn from the area of the Greek continental shelf.”
Wallace reportedly said that Britain will strive to achieve a “de-escalation and conditions for dialogue,” while stressing that Greece’s concerns are also shared by the EU which has been fearful of confronting Erdogan.
Minister of State Giorgos Gerapetritis also said Greece wouldn't talk under pressure or blackmail and there would be no discussions with Turkish ships near Greek waters.
For any dialogue to occur, Turkey must desist from all “aggressive” actions and agree to a framework of talks, Gerapetritis told SKAI TV.
“The only issue Greece will discuss is the Continental Shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone,” he said, which is exactly what Turkey wants, indicating Greece may be willing to talk under pressure.