The theater of the absurd is playing out in the Eastern Mediterranean once again as Turkey accuses Greece of “escalating tensions” in the region— the very same day Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dispatched a research vessel into Greek waters that was escorted by military vessels.
A Turkish ship set sail on Monday to carry out seismic surveys in the waters off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, prompting Greece to issue a furious new demand for European Union sanctions on Ankara in a row over offshore exploration rights.
Greece’s foreign ministry described the new voyage as a “major escalation” and a “direct threat to peace in the region.”
The Turkish violations prompted a strong rebuke from the U.S. Department of State, and even German officials who had a previously softened stance against Turkish aggressions.
“The United States deplores Turkey’s October 11 announcement of renewed Turkish survey activity in areas over which Greece asserts jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s announcement unilaterally raises tensions in the region and deliberately complicates the resumption of crucial exploratory talks between our NATO Allies Greece and Turkey,” the State Department said in a statement, accusing Turkey of using “coercion, threats, intimidation.”
“German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also warned Ankara that it must end the interplay between detente and provocation if the government is interested in talks, as it has repeatedly affirmed,” Maas said in Berlin before embarking on a trip to Cyprus and Greece.
The foreign minister’s trip also included a stop in Turkey but the Ankara stop was abruptly canceled, in protest to Turkey’s actions.
Maas appealed to Ankara to remain open to talks and not resume seismic exploration of gas reserves in the contested waters, adding that Germany stood in “full solidarity” with Cyprus and Greece as EU partners in the stand-off with Turkey.
As Germany holds the rotating EU presidency, Maas has been mediating between Ankara and Athens. He said he had deliberately left Turkey out of his visit.
“My decision only to travel to Nicosia and Athens today is owing to the current developments that we have been talking about,” Maas said. “It is up to Turkey to create the conditions for talks.”
“We appeal to Turkey to refrain from closing the dialogue window that has just opened with Greece through unilateral measures,” he added, stating that Turkey’s actions “would be a severe setback for efforts to de-escalate and thus for the further development of EU-Turkey relations.”
Meanwhile, Turkish diplomats blamed Greece for escalating tensions while their vessel violates Greek territorial waters.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar claimed, erroneously, that Ankara’s operations were within its continental shelf and it expected Greece to refrain from steps escalating tensions.
“They are doing everything to escalate tensions,” Akar said. “The Navy will provide the necessary escort and protection to our vessels as needed.”
Energy Minister Fatih Donmez wrote on Twitter that Turkey would “continue to explore, dig and protect our rights.”
Ankara had withdrawn the vessel from contested waters in the Eastern Mediterranean last month to “allow for diplomacy” before an EU summit at which Cyprus sought sanctions against Turkey.
“Turkey has proven it lacks credibility. All those who believed Turkey meant all it said before the European summit of Oct. 1-2 now stand corrected,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Monday.
At the summit, the EU said it would punish Turkey if it continued operations in the region and that sanctions could be imposed as soon as December.
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