Turkey says the European Union is not sincere in its efforts to weigh in on the maritime disputes in the eastern Mediterranean, while accusing Athens of beating the war drum by intending to expand Greek territorial waters.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay on Saturday raised concerns over the European Union’s efforts to weigh in on the maritime dispute in the eastern Mediterranean, following hints from Brussels that new sanctions could be on the way next month.
"It is insincere for the EU to call for dialogue on the one hand and make other plans on the other, regarding the activities we carry out in our own continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean," Oktay wrote on Twitter.
The comments came a day after EU foreign ministers said they would consider further sanctions against Turkey, including measures designed to limit Turkey’s ability to explore for natural gas in contested waters.
EU High Representative on Foreign Policy Josep Borrell had stated that measures could include sanctions against individuals and ships or the use of European ports, saying sanctions could go into effect if Ankara continued to challenge Greece and the Republic of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.
'If the Greek attempts to expand its territorial waters isn't a cause of war, then what is?' Oktay said
In a response, Oktay said Turkey expected “equity from the EU” and argued that “no one should expect Ankara to take a step back based on this equity.”
Earlier in the week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece was planning to extend its territorial waters along its western coastline from 6 to 12 nautical miles, saying it was within its legal rights.
Mitsotakis argued this was in line with an “inalienable sovereign right” of his country, adding that it was also based on the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Back in the 1990’s the Turkish parliament had stated that if Greece unilaterally extended its territorial waters, it would be seen as a provocation for war.
Following Mitsotakis’ comments, which he made in the Greek Parliament and were only referring to the Ionian Sea, Oktay gave an interview to Anadolu Agency, saying Ankara "will protect its rights on every cubic meter in the Eastern Mediterranean waters no matter what."
"If the Greek attempts to expand its territorial waters isn't a cause of war, then what is?" Oktay was quoting as saying.
Oktay directed his comments specifically at Greece and France, saying “we are well aware of peace and diplomatic language, but we will not hesitate to do what is necessary when it comes to protecting the rights and interests of Turkey.”
“France and Greece are among those who know this best," Oktay added.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that he had spoken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and discussed the creation of a mechanism to de-escalate tension within the alliance.
But on Saturday Turkey said it would hold a military exercise off northwest Cyprus for the next two weeks, following a joint military drill carried out by Greece, Cyprus, France, and Italy. The joint exercise called "Eunomia" was completed on Saturday.
The announcement came amid growing tension with Greece over disputed claims to exploration rights in the east Mediterranean.
An earlier Turkish NAVTEX message warned mariners of “gunnery exercises” taking place in the eastern Mediterranean on September 1 and 2, within a reserved area from the southern Turkish town of Mersin to the northern coast of Cyprus.
The drill, which implied the use of live ammunition, was issued Thursday morning while "Eunomia" was being carried out further south between Greece, Cyprus, France and Italy.
But the new Turkish military exercise announcement on Saturday came as Ankara kept voicing its frustration over what it viewed as an effort to “box in” the country’s eastern Mediterranean maritime zone within a confined small area.
Last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey had carried out the largest natural gas reserve exploration in the Black Sea.
Erdogan also insisted that Turkey wanted a “mutually beneficial deal for all countries” in the Eastern Mediterranean, while also vowing that his country would “take what is its right in the Mediterranean, in the Aegean and in the Black Sea.”
Cypriot Defence Minister Charalambos Petrides has called on his EU counterparts to declare the eastern Mediterranean as a region of maritime interest.
Petrides, who took part in the EU Defence Ministers Council on Wednesday in Berlin, had stated heightened tensions in the region warranted a coordinated and constant presence in the area by EU member-states.