ISTANBUL – The eastern Mediterranean has once again been the site of maritime spat this week, as overlapping land claims between Turkey, Greece and the Republic of Cyprus have sparked new tensions in the region.
On Monday, the Turkish navy turned back a Greek Cypriot contract research vessel that Ankara said was undermining its continental shelf without authorization in waters southwest of Cyprus. The Nautical Geo, a Maltese-flagged research vessel, has been “removed” from what Ankara defines as its territorial waters, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said without providing further details on how the vessel was removed .
The Nautical Geo was anchored in the Cypriot port of Lanarca on Tuesday, according to the tracking site marinetraffic.com. The showdown was the ship’s second with the Turkish Navy, which also stopped the Nautical Geo near the Greek island of Crete last week.
At a joint press conference on Monday with the Republic of Cyprus, Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias denounced the actions of the Turkish Navy ahead of the planned bilateral talks between Turkey and Greece on October 6 and aimed at defusing territorial disputes.
“It is unacceptable that Turkey, through continuous provocations and inflammatory statements, tries to undermine the climate of these contacts even before they take place,” Dendias said on Monday.
Greece and the Republic of Cyprus do not recognize parts of Turkey’s maritime claims in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Sea, and vice versa. Long-standing disputes over land and energy rights in the region have escalated in recent years, especially after Ankara signed a 2019 memorandum with the Tripoli National Accord government delineating a shared water border at across Greek territory which subsequently raised fears of confrontations between the Greek and Turkish navies in the summer of 2020.
In response, the European Council presented a roadmap in March to curb regional feuds, emphasizing a “positive agenda” that would allow Turkey to benefit from revamped trade and migration management agreements with the United States. ‘EU in exchange for a reduction in territorial disputes in the eastern Mediterranean. Wednesday’s bilateral talks between Turkey and Greece in Ankara will be the first of their kind in five years and are part of the EU’s de-escalation measures, although observers say both sides have little incentive to move forward on points of disagreement.
“There is currently no political will to move forward,” Ilke Toygur, European affairs analyst at the Royal Institute in Elcano and member of the German Institute for International Affairs, told Al-Monitor. and security.
Toygur said Greece had profited from regional tensions, strengthening its position as a “reliable ally” in the Mediterranean for the United States and more recently for France, with which Athens signed a $ 3 billion deal last week. euros for the purchase of French-made frigates and frigates. continue cooperation on mutual defense.
She said that Turkey, on the other hand, “does not believe that a compromise here and there will be good for the overall picture. The two sides therefore continue to talk and express their positions, without compromising too much. “
In an interview published Tuesday in Turkish magazine Kriter, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government would continue to protect Turkish interests against the “double standard” presented by international laws on the basis of what he called “Manufactured cards”.
“Are we not going to protect our rights in the Eastern Mediterranean? Are we going to accept manufactured cards? Erdogan asked.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director for the German Marshall Fund, said that without a solution to the ongoing territorial disputes in the eastern Mediterranean, a period of heightened tensions would be inevitable.
“These incidents could escalate,” Unluhisarcikli told Al-Monitor, highlighting the potential for future accidents or miscalculations between the Turkish, Greek and Greek Cypriot navies and adding: “The intervention of a third party to this stadium would be very beneficial “.
Who could be this third remains an open question as the German government, which played an intermediary role in advancing the Turkey-Greece talks last year, is currently in a state of flux and without a confirmed chancellor after last month’s elections.
“Until the Germans determine who their next chancellor is, there is very little incentive for Turkey to conclude talks with Greece because the pretext for all these talks is the positive agenda that the EU dangled before Ankara with a revised customs union, “Erol Kaymak, professor of political science and international relations at the University of the Eastern Mediterranean in Northern Cyprus, told Al-Monitor.
Kaymak continued, “It seems to me that all bets are off, so everyone has to buy for the time, but buying for the time could also lead to mistakes.”
Despite maritime tensions, there are signs Turkish and Greek officials could make progress on joint migration management agreements, especially as some Athens lawmakers have called for greater coordination between the EU and Turkey on the issue in recent weeks.
Other areas for possible progress include economic cooperation and an increase in high-level talks as well as other confidence-building mechanisms between Ankara and Athens, Toygur said.
Meanwhile, Unluhisarcikli noted that Ankara’s strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean has largely focused on disruption with the aim of creating dead ends in its favor.
“A stalemate means Turkey’s strategy has worked,” Unluhisarcikli told Al-Monitor. “Turkey has actually succeeded in turning waters that were considered Greek into disputed waters, and this is a status quo that Greece cannot accept.”