Athens, Greece – Greece plans to extend territorial waters amid drilling row with Turkey.
Greece’s decision to extend the western limit of its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea to 12 miles, announced by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Parliament this week, is based on Article 3 of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The move implies the simultaneous expansion of the airspace over these territorial waters.
The extension of Greece’s western territorial waters does not affect the demarcation of maritime boundaries agreed with Italy on June 9.
Greece had already informed the governments of Italy and Albania before Mitsotakis’ announcement, in the framework of good neighborly relations.
The extension will have to be approved by Parliament.
Greece will extend its territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles in response to the current crisis with Turkey over drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
The extension – which is legal – should take place along Greece’s Italy-facing coastline, in the west, hence not directly affecting the territory at the heart of the dispute.
Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament that Greece was abandoning decades of “passive” foreign policy.
At the same time, Turkish President Erdoğan warned Greece on Wednesday not to test his country’s patience or courage.
“Turkey will take what is its right in the Mediterranean, in the Islands Sea and in the Black Sea,” he said, adding he is “determined to do whatever is necessary in political, economic and military terms.”
His tough words came after a German mediation attempt on Tuesday, with foreign minister Heiko Maas calling for tension de-escalate, and warning Turkey that a “spark could lead to a disaster”.
The two NATO allies have come to blows over energy resources in the disputed Mediterranean Sea and are both set to carry out rival navy drills. They have also put their militaries on high alert and have sent warships to shadow each other in a dispute that has drawn in the European Union.
The current situation in the eastern Mediterranean is playing with fire, and any spark will lead to a disaster, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after meeting with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias.
Maas said Germany and the whole of the EU stood by Greece “in firm solidarity”.
“What we now need absolutely and immediately are signals of de-escalation and a readiness for dialogue,” he said.
Turkey and Greece announced military exercises on Tuesday in sections of a broad area between Crete and Cyprus.
Why have Turkey and Greece come to blows?
The Turkish government disputes Greece’s claim to exclusive rights in the waters where Turkey’s Oruç Reis research vessel is now surveying.
Turkey is also prospecting for hydrocarbons in waters where Cyprus claims exclusive economic rights.
But Greece says the vessel is over its own continental shelf, where it has exclusive rights on potential undersea gas and oil deposits and has sent its own warships to shadow the Turkish flotilla.
What has Greece said?
Greek Foreign Minister Dendias accused Turkey of continuing to provoke its neighbor and displaying “resurrection” ideology on Tuesday.
“As we speak, Turkey continues to act illegally, to escalate, to provoke,” he said.
“Instead of de-escalation, we are witnessing new provocations. We are witnessing the attempt to implement expansionist aims against neighbours and allies.”
What has Turkey said?
After speaking with Maas, Turkey said on Tuesday it was ready for talks with Greece.
“We are in favour of negotiations for fair sharing but nobody should lay down preconditions. This cannot happen with preconditions laid down by Greece,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu said after talks with Maas in Ankara.
But on Monday Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Greece of endangering navigational safety after it announced military and naval exercises near the site where Turkey is drilling.
In a speech President Erdoğan said Greece is “endangering the coastal and navigational safety of all ships in the region” and warned that its attitude to international law had thrown Greece “into a chaos that it cannot get out of.”
President Erdoğan has vowed he will not abandon the search for energy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Turkey will not take the slightest step back concerning the operations of the Orus Reis nor (concerning) our (naval) fleet,” he said. “On the contrary, Turkey will act with more determination concerning the protection of its rights, and (of) laws in the region.”
How has Cyprus and the EU reacted?
Cyprus’ Defense Ministry said warplanes and navy ships from France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus would be holding air and sea military exercises off the east Mediterranean island nation starting Wednesday.
France and Greece will deploy both aircraft and warships as part of the Aug. 26-28 drills, while Cyprus will activate its air defence system to test its capabilities.
EU foreign ministers discussed the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean at an informal meeting in Berlin on Thursday.
Turkey extends gas exploration in Mediterranean crisis
Turkey on Thursday extended its controversial Mediterranean gas exploration mission and ordered new navy drills as its row with Greece and France over energy and borders threatened to spiral out of control.
The Turkish navy said it was prolonging the stay of the Oruç Reis research vessel and its accompanying warships in waters claimed by Greece by an extra five days to Tuesday.
It also announced plans to hold “gunnery exercises” at the edge of its territorial waters in the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the shooting drills were not related to Turkey’s fight with Greece over access to newly discovered reserves that could offer Europe a vast new source of energy and cut its dependence on Russia.
But he also defiantly vowed to continue Turkey’s various exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean region for “as long as they are needed”.
“We are determined to protect our rights,” Akar said.
Greece said Turkey’s decision to extend the seismic research work southeast of Crete underscored Ankara’s refusal to defuse the crisis.
“It is once again shown who wants a de-escalation and who doesn’t,” a diplomatic source said.
Greece called the continuing presence of the warship in waters claimed by Greece “unauthorised and illegal”.
The two NATO members have been staging rival war games in a conflict that could imperil Europe’s access to vast new energy deposits and also threatens to embroil war-torn Libya and other countries in the Middle East.
An increasingly agitated Germany said ahead of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on the crisis in Berlin that both countries had to end their naval manuevers if they really wanted a peaceful solution to the dispute.
“The preconditions for (direct negotiations) are that these manoeuvres in the eastern Mediterranean are stopped,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after completing a failed round of diplomacy in Athens and Ankara this week.
Trump gets involved
US President Donald Trump also spoke to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday – his first direct involvement in the fast-developing crisis.
The White House said Trump “expressed concern over increased tension between NATO allies Greece and Turkey”.
The Greek prime minister said afterwards that Athens was “ready for a significant de-escalation – but on condition that Turkey immediately stops its provocative actions”.
Erdoğan has already rejected any preconditions for talks with Greece.
His office said Erdoğan “reminded (Trump) our country was not the one creating instability in the Eastern Mediterranean”.
Erdoğan “emphasised how Turkey has taken concrete steps which proves it sides with lowering tensions and dialogue,” the presidency said.
Greece’s European support is led by EU military powerhouse France.
French frigates and fighter jets joined the Greek war games – also including Italy and Cyprus – on Wednesday while Turkey staged smaller ones nearby with a US navy ship.
The French intervention has particularly upset Turkey.
“The time for bullying is over. You have no chance of forcing us to take actions through bullying,” Akar told France in a televised interview.
Akar also urged Greece to stop hiding behind France or the EU and said: “As Turkey and the Greeks, we need to solve our problems by holding talks.”
The EU meanwhile appears divided over how to respond.
Greece’s push to sanction Turkey failed to get off the ground at an EU foreign ministers’ video conference on August 14.
Turkey’s position found some support from southern European countries that would be most directly affected should Erdogan retaliate against the bloc.
Greece is expected to push again for sanctions at the EU meeting in Berlin on Friday.