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A patrol boat patrols off the tiny Greek island of Kastellorizo A patrol boat patrols off the tiny Greek island of Kastellorizo  (AFP or licensors)

EU hope for dialogue as Mediterranean energy dispute continues

Tensions between Turkey and Greece rise over the weekend after Ankara opens new military drills in the eastern Mediterranean.

By Nathan Morley

This long-running dispute between Greece and Turkey, which are both NATO members, shows no sign of abating.

Tensions have heated up as Turkish crews search for gas in the waters off Greek islands in the eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish research vessel “Oruc Reis” is probing for deposits south of the Turkish coast in waters which Athens claims jurisdiction.

To add muscle to their prospecting endeavours, the Turkish energy ship has been shadowed by powerful naval vessels.

Ankara argues that the area is part of its continental shelf. To make matters worse, Greece has complained of Turkish Air Force jets making an incursion into its airspace.

There is a similar conflict playing-out near Cyprus, an island where rich natural gas reserves have already been discovered.

Call for calm

In an effort to calm nerves, the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has warned that any small spark ‘could lead to catastrophe.’

Germany has been trying to mediate in the dispute for weeks with Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking on the phone several times with Turkish President Tayipp Erdogan and the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

For its part, the European Union has called on Turkey to immediately halt energy exploration in the disputed waters, dangling the threat of new sanctions if tensions don’t simmer down.

Last week, the Greek Foreign Minister endorsed that call for sanctions against Turkey by the EU - of which Greece is a member. He said Turkey represented a ‘neo-Ottoman ideology’ and was attempting ‘unlimited expansionism’ in the eastern Mediterranean.

However, despite the calls for calm, there seems to be no sign of tensions calming. As it stands, both Greece and Turkey are ratcheting up the tension by staging large naval drills.

Military drills

Turkey said it would carry out live-fire military exercises until mid-September in a zone off the southern Turkish town of Anamur, just north of Cyprus. This comes in addition to a bulletin that Ankara would also hold military exercises in a zone further east.

The European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Brussels was determined to show solidarity with Greece and Cyprus.

"We must walk a fine line between preserving a true space for dialogue and, at the same time, showing collective strength in the defence of our common interests," he told reporters.

The heads of European states will discuss fraught relations with Ankara in an upcoming summit next month.

30 August 2020, 16:00