The confrontation between Athens and Ankara, caused by territorial disputes and the struggle for offshore mining rights, has reached a new level. The frigates of the two countries’ navies hit each other while maneuvering the Turkish research vessel Oruç Reis in the area. The physical damage to the ships is probably small, but the very fact of the incident serves as a serious warning of how quickly the political and diplomatic conflict can move into a more violent phase. The situation is also getting hotter thanks to Paris – France, on the Greek side, is strengthening a military grouping in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Greek newspaper Kathimerini notes that the clash was probably caused by the skipper of a Turkish ship. The Greek frigate, which took part in joint naval exercises with France in the area, was not damaged, the newspaper claims.
The Turkish media, of course, describe the incident in a very different way – for example, it says that the damage was caused to a Greek ship rather than to a Turkish ship. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has even said that any attempt to attack the Turkish research ship would have to pay a “high price”. “The first such answer they received today,” the Turkish leader said without adding any details.
President Emmanuel Makron announced August 13 that the republic is strengthening its military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, where the frigate Lafayette is heading, among other things. Paris took this step after a telephone conversation between Makron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The situation in the Eastern Mediterranean was discussed at an urgent meeting of the European Union Foreign Ministers on 14 August. The ministers, who spoke by teleconference, called on the parties to the conflict to resolve it through diplomacy, demanded de-escalation of tension – but only from Turkey, which, unlike Greece, is not a member of the European Union, as well as “reaffirmed solidarity” with Athens and Nicosia.
In July, Ankara announced the start of exploration work in the Greek island of Kastelorizo near the Turkish coast. Against the background of criticism from the outside, primarily from the European Union, Turkey announced its readiness to suspend the works, calling this intention a gesture of good will. But on August 6, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendiaz and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukri signed an agreement on demarcation of maritime boundaries. The areas of the EEZs of Greece and Egypt, marked in this document, were partially superimposed on areas that were prescribed in a memorandum of Turkey and Libya, which Athens refused to recognize. In this situation, Erdogan’s entourage did not come up with anything better than to continue exploration at sea, but provided a military escort for the Oruç Reis. In response, Athens put its troops on alert.
That the actions of France, strangely enough, will benefit Turkey as much as Greece, writes and foreign policy analyst Bloomberg Bobby Gon. In his assessment, Macron’s decision on a military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean “will be an excuse for Erdogan to believe that the Europeans have turned against Turkey”; in addition, the actions of Paris will be “a convenient political tool to divert attention from the extremely dangerous economic situation in Turkey itself.
According to Gon, German diplomacy has been much more effective here: in particular, it was Chancellor Angela Merkel who managed to persuade Erdogan to suspend exploration.