The turquoise waters of the eastern Mediterranean have darkened a little more every day for the past 48 hours. On Monday, the Turkish government sent its seismic vessel Oruç Reis, escorted by several military buildings, to an area between Cyprus, the islands of Crete and off the Turkish city of Antalya. Greece responded immediately by putting its army on high alert and dispatching its navy and planes to the area.
Located 3 kilometers from Turkey, but more than 550 kilometers from mainland Greece, the Greek island of Kastellórizo is the center of disagreement. For Athens, the surrounding waters are part of its exclusive economic zone. Not for Turkey, which disputes the treaties of Lausanne (1923) and Paris (1947) defining the borders between the two countries and sees them as an abusive interpretation.
“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now clearly displays his expansionist aims”, says Angelos Syrigos. For this deputy of New Democracy (ND, conservative right, majority) and professor of international law at the Panteion University of Athens, Erdogan, who must face an economic and social crisis in his country, set up “A strategy of conquest to flatter Turkish nationalism”. The borders have always concentrated nationalist feelings on both sides, but tensions resumed with the arrival of ND at the head of Greece in July 2019, the right-wing party having itself been elected by capturing a nationalist fringe of the Greek electorate.
The waters in which Oruç Reis explores are also rich in hydrocarbons, which arouse the greed of neighboring countries, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey in the lead, but also Israel and Egypt; French Total is also involved in drilling. These recent discoveries have led to the formation of new alliances. In November, Libya and Turkey signed an agreement to delimit their maritime zones and exclusive economic zones, angering the Greeks; on August 6, Greece and Egypt signed theirs, triggering the ire of the Turks.
“Sending the Oruc Reis is a response from Turkey to Greece”, explains Nikos Christofis, specialist in Turkey and associate professor at Shaanxi Normal University. He specifies : “By deploying his” heavy artillery “, Erdogan intends to show that he will not let it go.” A first demonstration of forces had taken place in mid-July, with the dispatch of this same boat. A phone call from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Turkish President had put an end to the escalation. This time, neither the calendar, nor the space where the Orus Reis operates are left to chance: the boat is sent to the Greek exclusive economic zone, and this a few days after the signing of the Greco-Egyptian agreement.
“We call on Turkey to leave the Greek continental shelf without delay”, urged Greek Foreign Minister Níkos Déndias on Tuesday, warning that Greece would refuse the policy “A fait accompli”. Prime Minister Kyriákos Mitsotákis addressed the nation on Wednesday: there will be no “No dialogue with Turkey as long as the provocations last” and “The danger of an incident is not excluded when so many armed forces are concentrated in such a small space”, at-il having you.
At the same time, Greece is increasing its diplomatic efforts. She has asked for a Council of Foreign Ministers of the European Union to be held and is speaking with NATO – of which both Greece and Turkey are members. On Friday, the foreign minister is expected to meet with the US foreign minister. Athens can also count on the support of France, which positions itself openly on the side of its partners in the European Union, and in opposition to Ankara. During the first deployment of the seismic vessel in July, Emmanuel Macron threatened Turkey with sanctions. The French president criticized Wednesday evening “Turkey’s unilateral decisions on oil exploration [qui] cause tension “, and announced the temporary reinforcement of “The French military presence in the eastern Mediterranean”.
I have decided to temporarily strengthen the French military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean in the coming days, in cooperation with European partners including Greece.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) August 12, 2020
France is already scalded by Turkish behavior. A serious incident had occurred in June between the French and Turkish navies, against a background of violations of the arms embargo in Libya. Three Turkish frigates had “aimed” at a French vessel operating under the NATO flag, to prevent it from boarding a cargo ship, suspected of carrying military equipment. A diplomatic battle between Paris and Ankara followed, including within the Atlantic Alliance, without the tension really falling.
On Monday, as the Oruc Reis began its mission, two French Rafales left their base in Saint-Dizier to reach Cyprus, with which France has a defense agreement. According to the military staff, the Rafales are participating in an exercise with their Cypriot counterparts, which had not been announced upstream, and will leave on Thursday. The cabinet of the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly refused Wednesday to make any comment on this subject, confirming with lip service the presence of the two planes. These belong to the 4e fighter squadron. As recalled the specialized blog Le Mamouth, they are in charge of nuclear deterrence.