Mediterranean standoff: Greece demands Turkey cease ‘illegal’ naval missions in disputed waters

The Greek foreign ministry has urged Turkey to “immediately cease its illegal activities” in the Mediterranean, after Ankara launched a research vessel into disputed waters near Cyprus.

Historical rivals and NATO allies, Greece and Turkey are again at each other’s throats after Ankara sent a vessel into a disputed area in the Eastern Mediterranean between Cyprus and Greece on Monday. According to a maritime safety message, the vessel, named Oruc Reis, will be conducting exploratory drilling for the next two weeks.

Last week, Turkey announced naval drills near the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kastellorizo after Greece signed a drilling agreement with Egypt, a move Ankara claims is designed to force it out of the energy-rich waters of the eastern Mediterranean, even though Turkey signed a similar agreement with Libya last year.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called a meeting of defense advisors on Monday, which his office said explored “ways of reaction to the Turkish provocation.” Shortly afterwards, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement demanding that Turkey “immediately cease its illegal activities which undermine peace and security in the region.”

Minister of State George Gerapetritis told Greek state television that Athens was in full “political and operational readiness.” Gerapetritis is due to speak to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg later on Monday, in a bid to resolve the brewing conflict between the two NATO members.

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However, Turkey’s decision to resume drilling didn’t go down well in Europe, where German politicians have been mediating talks between both sides. “We’ve received Turkey’s decision to carry out further seismic probes in the eastern Mediterranean with concern,” German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger said at a press conference on Monday. “That’s the wrong signal. Unilateral steps don’t bring us forward a single bit. Moreover, Turkey further burdens its relationship with the EU.”

Turkey disputes Greece’s description of its mission, with its foreign ministry saying on Monday that its naval presence in the Mediterranean is purely for self defense.

The current flareup in tension is just one flashpoint in an ongoing struggle for economic dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean. When Turkey signed its own deal with Libya’s Government of National Accord, the move was met with anger in Athens. The economic zone set out by that deal ignores Greece’s islands, which Athens claims give it sovereignty over the region.

Despite the disagreement, both sides were reportedly ready to issue a joint statement before Greece went ahead and signed the deal with Egypt, invalidating Turkey’s claims.

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