Ankara’s decision to return a ship to the waters surrounding the Greek island of Kastellórizo angered Athens. The issue will be discussed at the European summit which begins on Thursday.
The hopes of appeasement did not last very long. Despite the “Exploratory talks” initiated Thursday between Greece and Turkey, Ankara is once again deploying a seismic research vessel in the Mediterranean, l’Oruç Reis, especially near the Greek island of Kastellórizo. Exploration activities scheduled to last until October 22, according to the Turkish Navy. This new deployment around this island claimed by Turkey is reviving tensions with Athens and Brussels.
August 10 and until mid-September, Oruç Reis, accompanied by two logistics support vessels, had already been deployed by Ankara in this disputed area of the Mediterranean, sparking the wrath of Athens and repeated calls from the European Union (EU) for de-escalation. If Greece claims its sovereignty over the waters surrounding this island, Turkey perceives this division of waters near its coasts as unfair. “We will continue to search (for gas), to dig and defend our rights”, Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez said on Twitter on Monday.
Ghost seaside town
In response, Athens called this new episode “Threat to peace and security”. Turkey is “not trustworthy” and “Do not sincerely desire dialogue”, accused the Greek ministry in a statement. For its part, France said “Concerned”. The mission of the research vessel “Will be discussed by European leaders at their next summit”, European foreign minister Josep Borrell announced Monday at a press conference following a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
Cypriots also protested against Turkey’s decision to reopen the ghost seaside town of Varosha. Located on the east coast of Kastellórizo, this Cypriot “Saint-Tropez” had been abandoned since the partition of the island in 1974. A decision taken while the elections for the “Turkish Republic of Cyprus” (North of the island) , only recognized by Ankara, were held on Sunday.
The situation in the eastern Mediterranean eased somewhat on September 12 when Turkey announced the withdrawal of Greek waters from l’Oruç Reis. After German mediation efforts to defuse tensions and launch discussions to resolve these maritime disputes, Greece and Turkey announced ten days later the holding of “Exploratory talks”.
“Erdogan is firing on all cylinders”
And on October 8, the Turkish and Greek foreign ministers met on the sidelines of a security forum in Bratislava, Slovakia. “The strong symbol of a de-escalation”, analysis Sara Sriri, Analysis and Strategy project manager at the Mediterranean Foundation for Strategic Studies (Fmes).
But the new deployment of the ship Oruç Reis around Kastellórizo ends this short phase of calm: “It’s hard to imagine how these calm discussions could continue in this situation”, notes David Rigoulet-Roze, associate researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris).
The deployment of new research around gas drilling is part of the general strategy of the Turkish president to establish himself as a regional leader. “He fires all the wood by multiplying the sources of tension and alternating them successively”, explains David Rigoulet-Roze. After interventions in Libya and Syria, then support for Baku in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Erdogan wants “Show that conflicts cannot be resolved without Turkey”.