In a huge and surprising development, Russian warships will hold live-fire exercises in eastern Mediterranean waters claimed by Turkey starting next week, amid the ongoing and increasingly militarized dispute over maritime boundaries and hydrocarbon drilling rights which has put Turkey and Greece on a war footing.
Russia did not immediately confirm the announcement out of Ankara, subsequently reported by Turkey's TRT World, which seized upon the news in relation to its controversial gas exploration claims:
The announcement on Wednesday advises sailors not to enter the drilling zone and in areas where ships are conducting research, Turkish Naval Forces Hydrography and Oceanography Department said in a statement.
According to naval alerts, Russian forces will conduct two separate shooting exercises on both sides of Cyprus island.
The two-phased Russia's shooting exercise in the eastern Mediterranean will take place from September 8-22 and the other from September 17-25.
It appears Turkey may be attempting to initially frame the development as in its favor, but that's anything but certain, and actually appears the opposite.
Associated Press noted that "It's unclear why NATO-member Turkey would announce such drills on Moscow's behalf" — recent limited military cooperation, for example the transfer of the S-400, notwithstanding.
The drills are being interpreted as an attempt of Russia to remind NATO, locked as it is in a dispute between its two members Greece and Turkey, of its significant naval presence and influence in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey's navy is reportedly urging Moscow not to interfere in its ongoing seismic studies by ships near Greece's easternmost islands as well as near Cyprus.
According to Bloomberg, this is in no way a signal in favor of Turkey's maritime claims:
Russian Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Igor Korotchenko, head of the Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade in Moscow, said the exercises were a show of force by Russia against NATO and not an effort to back Turkey.
“We do have strong economic and defense ties with Turkey but our policy is to avoid backing either side in this dispute,” he said by phone. “Turkey is quite capable of looking after its own interests.”
It appears Turkey's markets agreed, given the lira just dropped to a record low against the dollar, also following rapidly increased inflation in August (year-on-year inflation of 11.77 percent).
Reuters notes the lira "weakened some 0.25% to 7.4100 against the dollar at 0744 GMT, its weakest level on record, from a close of 7.3910 on Wednesday."