Ankara: The naval forces of France and Greece jointly conducted strategic exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, off the Turkish coast. The sources say that the drive behind the joint operation is Turkey’s encroachment into the water borders and the presence of a seismic research vessel in the area.
Greek military officials released a short video on Thursday that showed Greek frigates conducting manoeuvres with a French vessel and helicopter. “The exercises were meant to raise the forces’ operational readiness and combat ability”, the Greek TV channel Skai reported.
The show of support from France at sea follows Paris’s commitment of two Rafale fighter jets and a naval frigate to bolster dozens of Greek ships already on high alert in the Eastern Mediterranean. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis thanked French President Emmanuel Macron as a “true friend of Greece” and a “fervent protector of European values and international law”.
Meanwhile, the two leaders spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi on Wednesday. Mr Macron said after the call that he decided to “temporarily reinforce the military presence of France in the Eastern Mediterranean in the coming days, in co-operation with European partners including Greece”.
Diplomatic manoeuvrings continued before Friday’s meeting between EU ministers to discuss the Eastern Mediterranean, and a summit between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Greek Foreign Minster Nikos Dendias, also on Friday.
The military exercises started when Turkey had sent a research ship Oruc Reis into the contested Greek waters on Monday, which had an escort from six Turkish warships. After this incident, Greece immediately called for a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
Brussels has imposed penalties on people linked to Ankara’s earlier drilling activities in the area. Paris has also sought sanctions against Ankara in the weeks after a June incident in the Mediterranean between the two NATO allies’ naval vessels.
Meanwhile, France came up with an explanation similar to that of Greece that accused Turkey of one of its vessels, causing harm to a French frigate Courbet. France also accused that they had got evidences of Turkish cargo ship supplying weapons to Libya.
Tension in the eastern Mediterranean have exposed the divisions between Nato members and have been a perennial headache for the alliance. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday called for the stand-off to be resolved “in a spirit of allied solidarity and in accordance with international law”. A spokesman for the bloc said there had been no change in its position since.
The dispute between Turkey and Greece stretches back decades and centres on areas bordering the many Greek islands in the region. Turkey’s claims to the waters, which it says are on its continental shelf, have repeatedly been dismissed as illegal by Greece and its allies.
In December Ankara and Libya’s Government of National Accord in Tripoli signed an agreement on maritime borders that favoured Turkey. In exchange, Ankara promised military support to the government in Tripoli.
Last week Greece and Egypt agreed on their own maritime border deal. The UAE has thrown its weight behind the Greek-Egyptian deal while Turkey has called the Cairo accord a provocation.
Ankara has indicated that it wants to return to the negotiating table over the competing claims to the resource-rich waters. Turkey’s President, Rejeb Tayyib Erdogan, said on Thursday that the only solution to the dispute was through dialogue and negotiation.
But at the same time, the Oruc Reis has continued to carry out surveys in the disputed waters, said the Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister, Fatih Donmez.
However, the peace-lovers anticipate that the tensions will reduce by the next week after the scheduled meeting between Mr. Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU President Charles Michel.