Days after the US State Department warned Turkey over its gas reserves exploration and drilling plans in waters between Cyprus and Greece, which Athens has declared 'illegal' given it cuts into Greece's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the European Union has also put Turkey on notice, warning it could move forward with sanctions.
French President Emmanuel Macron said late this week that it's "not acceptable for the maritime space of a European Union member state to be violated or threatened" and called for sanctions if it moves forward. On Tuesday a US State Department statement demanded that Turkey back down from its drilling plans which have put the Greek Navy on "high alert" - given Turkish exploration ships are already in or near Greek waters.
Greek media sources are now reporting that Turkey through its embassy in Washington DC has informed the Americans that it plans to proceed unimpeded with its drilling research with the Oruc Reis vessel in the disputed eastern Mediterranean waters.
“We urge Turkish authorities to halt any plans for operations and to avoid steps that raise tensions in the region,” the statement said. And Greece's foreign ministry said it clearly violates the country's sovereignty and that it stands ready to defend its territory.
Turkey has so far rejected all demands from the US, EU, Greece and Cyprus that it back down. Turkey's Daily Sabah newspaper cited President Erdogan's office as follows:
Turkey rejects Greece's "maximalist" objectives in the Eastern Mediterranean, which lack a legal basis and disregards logic, Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın said Thursday.
Kalın highlighted that Turkey opposes the rhetoric of threats and favors an equal distribution of resources.
The Greek side's "maximalist" position claims that the island of Kastellorizo (Meis in Turkish)-only 2 kilometers from the Turkish shore, but about 580 km away from the Greek mainland-"should have a 40,000 square km continental shelf area, which is almost like half of Turkey's Gulf of Antalya," Kalın told an online policy briefing by the European Policy Centre in cooperation with the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey (DEIK).
Turkey has claimed that it's "well within its rights" amid the gas exploration and drilling.
Though Turkish media has claimed the Oruc Reis vessel has already commenced with its mission in the disputed waters, a number of analysts have cried foul, citing that it hasn't actually left port, given Ankara may be taking Greek threats of military action seriously:
That's really weird since the #OruçReis seems anchored right outside the port of Antalya, nowhere near the illegal NAVTEX issued by Turkey a few days ago. https://t.co/9dxHUgx1UK https://t.co/5IO834MRqD pic.twitter.com/UaXpPi4dnX— The Greek Analyst (@GreekAnalyst) July 25, 2020
Turkey has used its claims over northern Cyprus, or the so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," to say it can drill in waters encircling the entire island.
Analysts have feared the additional deployment of naval forces by both sides amid the dispute could easily lead to a break out into war.
This is the geographical / legal distribution of the EEZs of Turkey (red) and Greece (brighter blue).— Julian Röpcke (@JulianRoepcke) July 21, 2020
No surprise, Turkey is extremely p*ssed at the situation.
However explorations and drillings without the consent of its EEZ neighbors is surely not the answer to the problem ... pic.twitter.com/dh6kltzNB7
A new statement issued by US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt hinted at just such a scenario of military confrontation on the high seas.
"I want to echo the clear message from Washington and elsewhere in Europe, urging Turkish authorities to halt operations that raise tensions in the region, such as plans to survey for natural resources in areas where Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean," he said.