ATHENS — With no apparent response, Turkey held naval maneuvers in Greek – and Cypriot – waters and Turkish fish boats entered Greek territorial seas off Crete, where Turkey plans to hunt for oil and gas.
Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos denounced the military exercises to reporter after a meeting with the defense chiefs from Cyprus and Egypt in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, with Turkey also drilling off the island.
He said Turkey's provocations – the latest in a long line that have gone unpunished by NATO, the defense alliance to which Turkey and Greece belong – and unsanctioned by the European Union were a violation of international law.
That sticks to what has become a mantra for the New Democracy government, to keep repeating Turkey is violating the laws of the sea that Turkey doesn't recognize even as the two sides had begun chit chats instead of talks.
“Our common goal is the creation of a long-term, consistent, and substantial, strategic co-operation, according to international law,” he said, which hasn't worked because Turkey won't accept those laws.
He said that, “Once more we condemn the illegal, provocative, and unilateral actions of Turkey in the maritime zones of Greece and Cyprus, that are a flagrant violation of International Law,” said Kathimerini.
Cyprus Defense Minister Charalambos Petrides hosted Panagiotopoulos and Egyptian General Mohamed Zaki as part of a series of three-way meetings aimed at boosting defense cooperation between the three countries.
“We also agreed to further develop our now firmly established cooperation and thus sending clear and strong messages, as well as looking into the possibility of expanding it … through the inclusion of other countries with which we share the same values and objectives for the future of our wider region,” Panagiotopoulos said.
Zaki said the three ministers discussed better coordinating actions to counter threats that emanate from the wider region such as terrorism, illegal migration and illegal trafficking.
The latest in a string of such meetings between the three defense ministers is an extension of close links that the leaderships of the three countries have forged in the last few years, based on shared interests regarding potential hydrocarbon deposits in the eastern Mediterranean.
Egypt shares maritime borders with both Greek and Cyprus. The Cypriot government has licensed energy companies Total of France, Italy’s Eni and ExxonMobil to search for gas deposits in waters where it has exclusive economic rights.
That search has stoked tensions with with Turkey which doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state and disputes those rights, while claiming parts of Cyprus' EEZ.
Turkey had sent warship-escorted drill ships and research vessels to look for hydrocarbons inside waters where Cyprus and Greece claim exclusive rights.
Panagotopoulos and Petrides rejected what they called Turkey’s “illegal, provocative and unilateral” actions inside Greek and Cypriot waters that contravene international law and undermine regional stability.
While that was happening, Turkish fishing boats were in Greek waters off the small island of Gavdos, off western Crete, the paper said, the first time that has happened, with the Coast Guard sent to monitor the activity, although there was no report whether the Greek Navy was following Turkish military maneuvers.
While an outright violation of Greece's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ,) it was also seen as Turkey trying to establish its claims to waters around Greek islands apart from those under a maritime deal with Libya no other country accepts.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)