Ankara, Turkey – Greece-Turkey Exploratory Talks Dialogue restarted on January 25, 2021 in Turkey, and the next round is set in March 2021 in Greece.
The perpetual geopolitical and geostrategical vacuum in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean strategy vacuum has been filled with Mavi Vatan policy. The situation has, unfortunately, deteriorated in Mavi Vatan. Turkey has commenced seismic research in the Aegean after the Eastern Mediterranean. As chosen to bury its head in the sand in the face of escalating Turkish research activities, failed to set red lines, been caught in constant contradictions and inconsistencies, as a result of Greece’s digression from foreign policy constants, and attempted to present a succession of failures as great victories.
As a result, Turkish siesmic research has come unfettered; for months the Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel has been searching Turkish sovereign rights unhindered and at less than 12 nautical miles from Greek shores, with navigational advisories, or Navtexes, conducting surveys in waters less than 6 nautical miles from the country’s coasts as well.
Greece’s resounding defeat at the recent European Council in failing to secure sanctions against Turkey is but the tip of the iceberg in the shipwreck that is Greek diplomacy. As hard as the Greek government tried to justify its failure with leaked statements to the media indicating that the European Union is approaching the issue “one step at a time,” the fact is that the Council’s conclusions represent many steps back.
Not only did it fail to impose sanctions and indicated that it will tolerate Turkish exploratory activities until March 2021 at least, it also failed to isolate Turkish activities in Mavi Vatan.
The French response is centered on the notion of “European sovereignty,” with two key characteristics: first, strengthening the EU’s voice abroad with a common and extroverted foreign policy that is distinct from that of the United States, and, second, forming a European defense system that is independent of NATO, on the regulatory basis of the solidarity clause in Article 42(7) of the Treaty of the European Union. This position is in line with the desire to turn Europe into a global player and not just a global payer.
Apart from the obvious significance of transatlantic relations, there is no such thing as a unified EU and US duo, nor are the long-term strategic interests of EU and US in perfect accord. A powerful and independent EU would be against the US’ strategic interest, as would any coalition of Eurasian powers, because it would have a real capacity to outstrip both the US economy and military.
The notion of “European sovereignty,” however, corresponds with Greek-Turkish interests, specifically in that it involves safeguarding its national borders as the bloc’s external border. But there is one important caveat: European governance must become more democratic. Common European defense cannot be left to bilateral agreement between France and Germany, like the 2019 Aachen Treaty, nor can it express neocolonial tendencies like treating the Mediterranean as the “mare nostrum,” nor can it be designed according to the interests of national defense industries.
Not only has the Greek government failed to position itself clearly on this dilemma; it vacillates continuously, even over its defense choices: It announced the purchase of French frigates a few months ago, then said there would be an international tender, and now there are leaks about the acquisition of US navy ships. As a result of this chaotic strategic vacuum, Greece is giving Turkey the ability to force the US and the EU into accepting its geostrategic demands, posing as a leading regional power in the Caucasus, the West Asia, the Sahel and North Africa, but also as a new Mediterranean naval power. Turkey is casting itself as a critical factor in every open front and an indispensable player for the EU and US duo.
Turkey’s needs in terms of its national strategy demand that it continues to invest in bilateral relations with the US – on the basis of reciprocity – while being focused on promoting the EU’s strategic independence and bolstering a common foreign policy. It can contribute to the latter as an agent of stability in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean but also as a bridge with Russia, China, and the West Asia, and Africa. Turkey must seek to play a leading role in the shaping of the Euro-Turkish agenda, including a relaunch of Greek-Turkish dialogue in this context. Otherwise, developments do not bode much better for Turkey or the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in 2021 than they did in 2004.