Rival warnings continued to be issued over waters in the eastern Mediterranean this weekend, after EU ministers reaffirmed the bloc’s solidarity with Greece and the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey saying it would not “bow to banditry.”
The Republic of Cyprus issued a warning to mariners on Friday after Turkey renewed its own NAVTEX for extending the activity period for Turkish drilling ship Yavuz through September 15.
The Joint Rescue and Coordination Center in Larnaca said in its warning that the NAVTEX regarding Yavuz was referring to an “unauthorized area and illegal activity.”
“This action constitutes a gross violation of international law, affects the maritime safety procedures and is also a criminal offence under the laws of the Republic of Cyprus,” the Cypriot NAVTEX said.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said he was satisfied with the position of EU ministers towards Turkey as well as support shown to fellow EU members Greece and Cyprus
The rivalry between NAVTEX messages was not something new in the eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey has been challenging maritime zones and jurisdiction claims of neighbouring states.
On Friday, EU foreign ministers discussed among other issues the situation in the eastern Mediterranean, following a series of events including a collision between Greek and Turkish frigates. According to a press release issued by Brussels, the ministers reaffirmed the EU’s full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said he was satisfied with the position of EU ministers towards Turkey as well as support shown to fellow EU members Greece and Cyprus.
Dendias had originally sought a unanimous statement from his European counterparts, demanding an immediate end to Turkey’s exploratory activities in the eastern Mediterranean as well as a welcoming message to last week’s deal between Greece and Egypt demarcating a part of the two countries’ exclusive economic zones.
But Germany reportedly did not agree to the Greek statement, just one week after Berlin was irked with the timing of the Greek-Egyptian maritime accord, a day before a scheduled announcement of exploratory talks between Athens and Ankara that had been mediated by Germany. Following Berlin’s block on the Greek statement, it was reported that Athens also refused to approve a proposed EU statement on the Belarus election results.
Ankara dismisses “language of sanctions and threats”
EU foreign ministers appeared to be in agreement that Turkey’s actions in the eastern Mediterranean were “antagonistic and dangerous,” prompting a strong reaction from Ankara. Dendias also implied that a list of sanctions against Ankara, being drawn up by the FAC, would be the focus of informal discussions in Berlin in late August.
In response, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey would not back down to threats of sanctions or incursions in maritime territory in the Mediterranean Sea, where Ankara is in a standoff with Athens over disputed oil and gas exploration rights.
“We will never bow to banditry on our continental shelf. We will not back down against the language of sanctions and threats,” Erdogan said.
Tensions between NATO members Greece and Turkey have risen in the past week after Turkey sent the Oruc Reis survey vessel, escorted by warships, to map out possible oil and gas drilling in territory over which both countries claim jurisdiction.
Following Wednesday’s collision, Erdogan had warned the following day that “if this continues, they will receive their answer in kind," while he did not specify at the time a country or specific details surrounding the incident.
France in the mix
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also weighed in from Switzerland on Friday, saying Turkey was looking for a peaceful solution to the crisis.
"Of course we do not wish to escalate, but Greece should act with common sense," Cavusoglu said.
But the Turkish minister also had a warning for Paris, after French President Emmanuel Macron called on Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
Macron had tweeted earlier on the eastern Mediterranean situation, saying it was “worrying” and that “Turkey's unilateral decisions concerning oil exploration are provoking tensions.”
“Those tensions must end, to enable calm dialogue between countries which are neighbours and allies in NATO," Macron said.
A French frigate La Fayette, which remains in the region, has been on exercises with the Greek navy while two Rafale fighter jets were in Cyprus for an exercise during the collision incident.
"I have decided to strengthen the French military presence temporarily in the Mediterranean, in co-operation with Greece and other European partners,” Macron added on Twitter.
Cavusoglu accused France of being a bully and called on Paris to avoid steps that will increase tensions.
"They will not get anywhere by acting like bullies, whether in Libya, the northeast of Syria, in Iraq or the Mediterranean," the Turkish foreign minister said.
After their Friday meeting, the EU ministers stressed that the serious deterioration in the relationship with Turkey was having far-reaching strategic consequences for the entire EU, well beyond the Eastern Mediterranean, according to a Brussels press release.