Efforts underway to reduce tensions in Eastern Mediterranean

Thursday, 2020-09-10 10:05:51
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Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz is escorted by a Turkish Navy frigate in the Eastern Mediterranean. (Reuters)
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NDO – President of the European Council Charles Michel is pushing efforts to reduce Turkey’s tensions with Greece and Cyprus, two member states of the European Union (EU), revealing that the EU leaders have not ruled out the “carrot and stick” approach towards Turkey, aiming to prevent tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean from threatening regional security and stability.

Relations between Turkey and Greece – two allies in NATO – have been deteriorating in relation to the exploitation of energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey is opposed to some countries currently conducting drilling operations in the waters without its participation. Ankara insists that the waters where Turkey is carrying out oil and gas exploration is within the Turkish continental shelf. In the meantime, Greece considers Ankara’s exploration drilling to be illegal and a violation of Greek sovereignty. Both sides have organised military drills in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey has sent its seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis and escort warships to the area, after Greece and Egypt signed an agreement on maritime border.

Tensions escalated when Turkish armed forces recently conducted annual military exercises in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an entity only recognised by Ankara. Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay confirmed that the Turkish military began its exercises, called “Mediterranean Storm”, with the Turkish Cypriot Security Command. The Turkish defence ministry also reported the military exercises were carried out successfully.

Opposing Turkey’s moves, the Greek Foreign Ministry emphasised that Greece maintains a search for maritime agreements with neighbouring countries in the region, based on international law and conventions on the Law of the Sea. Meanwhile, aiming to strengthen its defence, Athens negotiated with France and other countries on the purchase of weapons to improve the capabilities of its armed forces. Greece announced its readiness to spend a portion of its cash reserves on purchasing weapons and other means to enhance its defensive power.

Fearing that the dispute between the two sides could escalate into a dangerous confrontation, Germany has called on the parties to stop their exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean, aiming to create space for the promotion of talks between Turkey and Greece. The EU is pushing diplomatic efforts to reduce Turkey-Greece tensions ahead of the meeting of bloc leaders later this month. Talking with the Turkish President on the phone, European Council President Charles Michel called on Turkey to refrain from actions that could increase tensions with Greece. Despite not disclosing in detail the EU’s tools to be applied in the Turkish issue, Michel affirmed that the “carrot and stick” approach is the best option. The EU is willing to come up with incentive policies in response to Ankara’s goodwill, but could also impose sanctions to pressure Turkey if necessary. At the upcoming meeting, EU leaders will discuss a series of thorny issues on energy, security, migration and boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean. The EU will reiterate its support for the sovereignty of Greece and Cyprus.

In the context of the Greece-Turkey dispute causing a crack in the bloc, the Secretary-General of NATO has called on the two member countries to de-escalate tensions and settle the dispute in the spirit of solidarity and on the basis of international law. NATO affirmed that it seeks to prevent a conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean. Meanwhile, tensions with Greece have caused the door to join the EU to remain closed to Turkey. However, Ankara is using the migration issue to bargain with the EU, warning that the EU could not expect cooperation from Turkey if sanctions are imposed on Ankara.

Both NATO and the EU have stepped up their reconciliation efforts to stave off disputes and moves of escalating tensions, which are seen as “underground waves” threatening to turn the Eastern Mediterranean into a new hotspot of conflict.