An intensifying dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean over gas and oil exploration rights at sea has seen tensions flare between Greece and Turkey, with one regional expert describing the situation as the “most dangerous” in years.
Turkey and Greece, both members of NATO, are at loggerheads over competing claims to energy reserves in contested Eastern Mediterranean waters. The countries and territories of this region include Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Libya.
Last week, Turkey sent the Oruc Reis survey vessel, escorted by warships, to conduct seismic research in territory both Ankara and Athens claim jurisdiction over. The ship is set to continue its search for potentially lucrative energy reserves through to August 23.
EU-member Greece has since pressed Turkey to stop the “illegal” activity, with the standoff even resulting in a minor collision between two frigates earlier this month. France has also stepped in to criticize Turkey’s “worrying” provocations.
However, Ankara has said it will not back down from defending its “rights” and has since announced a separate drillship will search for natural gas in waters offshore Cyprus in the coming weeks.
“No matter what, Turkey will resolutely continue to protect both her and Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the Eastern Mediterranean stemming from international law,” Hami Aksoy, the spokesperson for Turkey’s foreign ministry, said in a statement on Sunday.
“No alliance of malice will manage to prevent this. Those who think otherwise have not taken their lessons from history.” Aksoy’s statement also singled out Armenia for its “conspicuous” remarks on Eastern Mediterranean tensions, shortly after the country reaffirmed its “unconditional support” for Greece and Cyprus.
In response to Turkey’s announcement to ramp up its search for natural gas, the European Union said it “regrettably fuels further tensions and insecurity” in the region. The bloc called for an immediate end to Turkey’s activities in disputed waters and urged Ankara to engage in a broad dialog.
An emergency summit of European Union ministers last week prompted EU High Representative Josep Borrell to warn that the “serious deterioration” in the relationship with Turkey affected the whole bloc “well beyond the Eastern Mediterranean.”