In "Major Escalation" Turkey Renews Gas Exploration Off Greece, Vows Military Escort

In late September into early this month for a brief moment it looked as if the Turkey-Greece East Mediterranean dispute over Turkish hydrocarbons exploration was cooling, given intense diplomatic contacts and negotiations among the major players, which includes Cyprus and the EU. This after in August and earlier last month the rival sides conducted increased war games which threatened at any moment to become 'live' fighting.

But now this momentary calm has been shattered, as Turkey's navy late Sunday issued a public advisory saying it will sail the Oruc Reis survey ship to conduct exploration activities just off Greece's easternmost island of Kastellorizo. Turkey indicated the mission is planned over the next ten days, until October 22.

Turkey's Oruc Reis vessel, file image.

Predictably, Athens was swift to condemn the move as a “major escalation and a direct threat to peace and security in the region,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement. 

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis notified the European Council by phone, at a moment the EU has threatened sanctions on NATO country Turkey. “This new unilateral act is a severe escalation on Turkey’s part,” Mitsotakis said.

Like in prior instances of Turkish oil and gas vessels being sent into Greek and Cypriot waters widely recognized internationally as their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), Ankara has vowed a military escort could be present if “support and protection” are necessary, according to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias has used this latest provocative act to highlight a pattern of Turkish aggression spanning the entire near East region: “I explained the obvious, who is the common denominator in all problematic situations in the area: Nagorno-Karabakh, Syria, Iraq, Cyprus, the southeastern Mediterranean,” he said.

“The common denominator is Turkey,” Dendias emphazied. “Turkey is undermining peace and stability in the region.”

France's Emmanuel Macron has been at the forefront of European condemnations of Turkish actions, even sending French fighter jets and frigates to join in military drills with Greece of late; however, the whole conflict has been embarrassing for NATO, given its second largest military is now being opposed by other NATO members.