Just when it seemed that Greece and Turkey were entering a phase of de-escalation, the two countries appeared on Monday to be heading for another crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkish authorities on Monday issued a navigational telex reserving an area of the sea south of the Greek island of Crete for a few hours on Tuesday.
Germany’s mediatory effort between Athens and Ankara will continue this Tuesday with visits to Athens and Ankara by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas for contacts with his counterparts, in an effort to start anew the discussions between the two sides.
Athens on Monday issued a Navtex, an advisory to ships including coordinates, that its air and naval forces would conduct joint exercises in an area that overlaps with the one reserved by Ankara in a similar advisory issued on Sunday.
Amid a new diplomatic effort, led by Berlin, to diffuse tension between Greece and Turkey, Athens has made it clear that the prospect of Ankara announcing exploratory activities in areas south or east of Crete that are designated in the Turkey-Libya memorandum is a red line that it will not allow to be crossed.
Diplomatic efforts are already under by Berlin to convince Athens and Ankara to restart the stalled exploratory negotiations on bilateral issues which froze after Greece signed a maritime border deal with Egypt, angering Turkey.
Four F-16 fighter jets of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be delployed at the Souda Air Base in Crete in the next few hours, following Thursday’s call between the head of the Greek Armed Forces and his Emirati counterpart.
Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos on Tuesday congratulated the captain of the Greek frigate Limnos that accidentally collided with a Turkish ship during a standoff in the Eastern Mediterranean last week and indicated that Greece is prepared to hold talks with Turkey on the condition that it withdraws its warships and seismic research vessels from the area of the Greek continental shelf.
In the wake of last month’s dangerous escalation of tension between Greece and Turkey, the two countries have laid the groundwork for exploratory contacts on the terms and conditions of a possible resumption of a dialogue, with Berlin having played a pivotal role in the rapprochement.
The mission of the Turkish research ship Barbaros in the Cypriot continental shelf has come to further complicate matters between Athens and Ankara, just days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the suspension of activities of another vessel, the Oruc Reis, in the Greek continental shelf in light of a pending “unconditional” dialogue.
The announcement on Tuesday by Turkey that it will suspend research for oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean in an area located within the Greek continental shelf, pending talks with Greece, was seen as result of ongoing trilateral contacts between Berlin, Athens and Ankara.
Greece said on Monday that Turkish navy ships have left the area off the southeast Aegean island of Kastellorizo where Ankara disputes Greek jurisdiction over oil-and-gas drilling rights.
In the run-up to August 2 – when the Navtex issued by Turkey reserving areas for seismic surveys in the Greek continental shelf expires – Athens, Ankara and Berlin have embarked on a high-stakes diplomatic push with an uncertain outcome.
The situation in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean appears to be de-escalating, as Turkish warships are returning to their bases.
Amid heightened tensions, Greek military sources have told Kathimerini that if cables of the Turkish Oruc Reis seismic research vessel touch the Greek continental shelf, Turkey will have the “complete and exclusive” responsibility for what will follow.
The tension following Turkey’s announcement that it plans to conduct seismic research in parts of the Greek continental shelf and the military mobilization that this triggered in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, prompted the intervention of Berlin, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoning Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as early as Tuesday night, calling for a de-escalation.
Greece has been placed on high alert in response to Turkey’s move to issue a Navtex reserving a large part of the Greek continental shelf south of the island of Kastellorizo for seismic surveys. Turkey’s plan is seen in Athens as a dangerous escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Antalya Navtex station on Tuesday announced plans for a Turkish seismic survey south and east of the Greek island of Kastellorizo from July 21-August 2.
The tripartite meeting between representatives of the government of Greece, Turkey and Germany in Berlin last week was a result of the phone conversation in late June between Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin.
With Turkey’s behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean becoming increasingly provocative, Greece is bracing for a possible scaling up of tensions, possibly even during the summer, amid fears that Turkish officials will make good on threats to launch hydrocarbon explorations off the Greek islands of Crete or Kastellorizo.