Tensions spiked between Greece and Turkey on Monday over offshore rights in the eastern Mediterranean, with Athens vowing to push its EU peers to activate sanctions against Ankara.
The deterioration in relations followed the departure earlier on Monday of a Turkish ship, the Oruc Reis, to conduct work south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo, which is close to Turkey’s southern coast.
Greece urged Turkey to immediately recall the new Navtex issued on Sunday for the Oruc Reis valid through to October 22, and issued its own counter Navtex. Oruc Reis will be accompanied by Turkish naval ships Ataman and Genghis Khan.
The Greek foreign ministry described the development as a “major escalation” and a “direct threat to peace in the region”.
“The new Turkish Navtex on surveys south of Kastellorizo within the Greek continental shelf, at a distance of just 6.5 nautical miles from Greek shores, is a major escalation,” the foreign ministry said.
The move, after Ankara committed to proposing a date for exploratory talks, showed Turkey is “unreliable” and “does not really truly want a dialogue,” it said.
Ankara had withdrawn the same vessel from contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean last month to “allow for diplomacy” before an EU summit at which Cyprus pushed for sanctions against Turkey.
Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez wrote on Twitter that the Oruc Reis had weighed anchor after undergoing maintenance. He said Turkey would continue to explore, dig and protect its rights.
“Turkey has proven it lacks credibility. All those who believed Turkey meant all it said before the European summit of October 1-2 now stand corrected,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Monday.
At the summit in early October the EU said it would punish Turkey if it continued operations in the region and that sanctions could be imposed as soon as December. Ankara said such a warning strained ties.
Petsas said the EU does not need to wait two months before taking action.
“Turkey did the precise opposite to what was sought by the European Council … So the only issue here is to activate more drastic solutions, for Turkey to feel more stick and less carrot this time,” Petsas said
Athens said that just a few days after the meeting of the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey, during which the Turkish side promised to propose a date for exploratory contacts, its unreliability was again demonstrated. Turkey did not want a sincere dialogue the foreign ministry said.
“It insists on aggressive and illegal tactics of past centuries, clearly confirming its role as the pre-eminent factor of instability and delinquency in the region from Libya to the Aegean and Cyprus, Syria, Iraq and now Nagorno-Karabakh,” it said.
Turkey systematically ignores international law, maritime law and the rules of good neighbourliness, the ministry added.
“It is provocatively indifferent to the European Union’s urges to comply with international law, as a self-evident condition of every step forward in Euro-Turkish relations.”
Oruc Reis had previously carried out research in contested areas around Cyprus and returned to waters near the southern province of Antalya on September 13.
Turkey also issued a new Navtex for its seismic research vessel Barbaros on Friday, after it moved from an area off Famagusta to an area off the western coast of Cyprus earlier in the day.
The new Navtex began on October 10 and ends on November 9 and will cover areas off the coast of Cyprus. The ships Tanux 1 and Apollo Moon will travel with it.