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Politics

Turkish Energy Ship in Greek Waters, Mitsotakis Holds His Fire

ATHENS – After warning Greece would react if a Turkish energy ship entered Greece's Continental Shelf, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis held back a response and pushed again for dialogue while saying he would stand firm.

The two-sided message left it unclear what the New Democracy government would do after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made good on his vow to send the vessel, the Oruc Reis, off the island of Kastellorizo, followed by warships.

After a phone call from German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier persuaded him to pull the ship – and warships – back, a deal Greece made with Egypt setting Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the seas infuriated the volatile Erdogan.

Although Greece made that deal as a counter to Turkey signing an similar agreement with Libya dividing the seas and leading to Turkey claiming parts of Greek waters, Erdogan insisted Turkey had rights there.

Adding to the confusion over the disputed waters, the Oruc Reis – which Greece said was over its Continental Shelf – was sailing outside of Greece’s territorial waters, the Hellenic Navy General Staff (HNGS) said. 

With warships from both countries in the area, Mitsotakis warned of an accidental conflict as the European Union again sat on the sidelines, reluctant to engage Erdogan in fear he would send more migrants and refugees into the bloc through Greek islands.

Mitsotakis' reaction was to go on national TV and say, “No challenge will go unanswered. We have proved it in practice. And we will prove it again if necessary,” although there was no answer to the Turkish ship in Greek waters.

He said that just as Greece signed agreements with Italy and Egypt, it is ready “in the same framework of legality, with confidence and without discounts, to talk to all our neighbors.”

“We are not afraid of dialogue, even the most difficult ones, because we have faith in the legality of our positions,” he said, while adding that Greece wouldn't be pressured and that talks couldn't take place at gunpoint.

“Turkey’s militarization of the situation is also an admission of the absence of legally strong positions,” he said, as Turkey said it was exercising rights under the United Nations Law of the Sea which it doesn't recognize. 

Mitsotakis said after Turkey sent part of its fleet to the seas that Turkey – supported by the United States – disputes, Mitsotakis said that, “We deployed our own, placing our armed forces on alert.”

EU HAS NO ANSWERS

He warned that the concentration of a large number of fleet vessels in such a limited area inevitably creates the “risk of an accident,” a shooting battle which could engage the two NATO allies as the defense alliance backed away. 

The EU's foreign ministers planned a teleconference and warned Turkey of sanctions unless the ships are pulled back but that's been said before and not acted on, further emboldening Erdogan. Mitsotakis had already asked the EU to get tough but was ignored.

After some analysts said if a conflict breaks out that Greece would be left on its own by the EU, US, NATO and the UN, Mitsotakis insisted Greece had allies who would help.

“We are not alone in this effort,” he said. “The European Union’s immediate response to our request to convene the Foreign Affairs Council confirms that the issue concerns not only Greek-Turkish relations, but also the relations of the whole of Europe with Turkey,” asking for tough sanctions that haven't happened.

“We firmly hope that logic will finally prevail in our neighboring country, so that a dialogue in good will can begin,” he stressed, while also accusing Turkey of pursuing foreign policy “with propaganda photos from nonexistent seismic surveys.”

"Our country never threatens but will not suffer blackmail either. This is why it does not succumb to threats or tolerate provocative acts," he said, fearful that trouble could break out accidentally and throw the region into turmoil.

"Let it be known: The risk of an accident lurks when so many military assets are gathered in such a contained area," Mitsotakis said. "In such a case, responsibility lies upon the one who gives rise to these circumstances."

"We will never be the ones to escalate the situation. Yet, self-restraint is only one aspect of our power," Mitsotakis said. "No provocation will … go unanswered. We have demonstrated that we will respond, if necessary. And we will do so again if it is required."

Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Donmez said on Twitter that the Oruc Reis was "taking the x-ray of our seas." He said the vessel had also lowered 1,750 kilometers (1,087 miles) of seismic cables into the Mediterranean.

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