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Greece -Turkey: tension is high as Ankara tries to conduct research in Cyprus EEZ

A new tension is high between the arch rivals and close neighbors on the west and east of the Aegean Sea, as Turkey is staging one provocation after the other, playing the game the country knows very well: claiming rights in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Reason for this tension is the Cyprus research for hydrocarbons and natural gas. Ankara has not only sent a seismic exploration vessel inside the Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) but also a corvette for a quick and provocative sailing trip through Greek islands and Greek territorial waters.

While Greece and Cyprus are closely monitoring Turkey’s moves in the area, top officials from the politics and the defense are seeking ways to give Ankara “the answer it deserves”….

It is not the first tension time between Greece and Turkey, but Greek media consider the issue as “serious” and “dangerous”. For one more time, it is about Turkish claims in the area, and this time on the occasion of hydrocarbon research off Cyprus.

Cyprus natural gas research – Turkish provocation

The new tension started last month, when Turkey sent seismic exploration vessel “Barbaros” inside Cypru’s EEZ.

“The situation came to a peak last month when Turkey issued a maritime warning order (NAVTEXT) for the area and sent its seismic exploration vessel, the Barbaros, into Cyprus’s EEZ where the RoC has been conducting oil and gas searches. Israel’s Noble Energy is actively involved in the exploration work after agreements with the Cyprus government. The move resulted in Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades suspending his participation in the ongoing U.N. negotiations for a solution to the Cyprus issue and refusing to return until Ankara withdraws its presence. He also threatened to block any further efforts for Ankara to revive its own dialogue with the EU. ” (more here)

According to Greek media, the Barbaros is closely monitored by several Turkish frigates and even one submarine.

Greece’ reaction

While the Cypriots try to keep low statements, Greece takes these provocations “personal” and describes them as efforts to “create a fait accompli” (an accomplished fact) in the area, and “signs of  the Turkish expansion in the frame of a deeper strategy”.

This time Greece decided to  increase its military presence in the area as well and on Monday, Foreign Minister and deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos announced that Greece is sending a frigate and a submarine off Cyprus, even thought they officially participate in multinational naval exercises.

“With this move Athens send Ankara the message that it will not continue to pursue a policy of appeasement and will not accept further escalation of challenges. The Greek government also send a message to the international community that  the message that tolerance towards the Turkish aggression has its limits.” (ProtoThema)

Speaking at the Meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Group for the Mediterranean and Middle East and the Sub-Committee on Partnerships in Athens, Evangelos Venizelos said:

“We are concerned at the recent violations of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Republic of Cyprus. Beyond violating the sovereignty and sovereign rights of a member state of the UN and the European Union – rights enshrined in international law and especially the International Law of the Sea – this flagrant violation of international law is creating yet another front, another crisis, in an already turbulent region, at a time when the Alliance and the international community are and must be focused on the very serious crises and security threats .” (full speech GreekForeignMinistry)

Venizelos also briefed his NATO-partners on the upcoming trilateral summit between Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, scheduled for November 6th 2014 in Cairo:

“The aim of the trilateral cooperation initiative we have embarked on with our Cypriot and Egyptian partners; cooperation that is aimed not only at trilateral synergies in a variety of sectors – energy, delimitation of maritime zones (in accordance with international law and the Law of the Sea), tourism, transport – but also at engendering cooperation in the wider region.”

Turkish MP upsets Greeks in Greek Parliament

Hardly had Venizelos finished his speech, when Osman Askin Bak, MP from President Erdogan’s party Justice and Development reiterated the Turkish claims and talked about unilateral actions in Cyprus.

“The Barbaros conducts seismographic surveys and we know that there should be no unilateral actions on the side of  Cyprus. The whole continental shelf is accessible by all, and the two peoples must decide how they will use the resources. There cannot be any unilateral activity in the area, there must be an agreement must be agreed, and thus to share the resources of natural gas,” Osman Askin Bak said.

Nea Dimokratia MP and former deputy Foregin Minister Euripidis Stylianidis told Bak that the resources research “is based on international treaties and the EEZ” and urged Turkey to “not open issues in the area while the risks of instability phenomena threaten all our common interests” .

What does Turkey want?

First of all Turkey want to create a fait accomplis and perform researches for hydrocarbon off Cyprus. Turkey has been claiming to own research rights in the Agean Sea and off Cyprus, where it has been illegally occupying the North of the island for 40 years.

  • To hinder, or even suspend Curpus hydrocarbon research and even scare off investors
  • To prohibit the approach efforts of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt to delimitation of the maritime economic zones.
  • To stop or even suspend the Cypriot surveys to detect hydrocarbons.

Several Greek media reported over the weekend that Turkey attempted to purchase platforms for hydrocarbon extortion from state companies in Romania and Azerbaijan but that both countries rejected the deal.

Turkish Corvette in Greek waters

Turkish corvette Buyukada took a sail through Greek territorial waters and set the greek Armed Forces in alert. According to a statement of Greek General stab,

“Turkish corvette “Buyukada”, originating from the Gulf of Saros, entered  on November 4th, at 3:00 am Greek Territorial Waters in the straits of Kafirea. It moved further to South and South-West and passed through the islands of Kea and Kythnos.

Ships of the Greek Navy were following the Turkish corvette,” the statement said.

The Turkish Corvette entered Greek territorial waters just 24 hours after former Defense Minister and now EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. Media report that on the side of the meeting, Avramopoulos tried to figure out how serious and determined are Ankara’s moves.

Apparently they are, at least according to the Greek side.

USA involvement

Now Greeks put their hope on US-Vice President Joe Biden who is due to Turkey later this month. In talks with the Cypriots, Joe Biden expresses his hope that tension would de-escalate through the diplomatic channels.

Until Joe Biden manages to speak with the Turkish side, Amos Hochstein,  US- State Department Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs, is surprisingly visiting Cyprus today to be briefed on the issue …

... and to try to secure the US interests, I suppose 🙂

PS I do hope PM Samaras is clever enough not to drag the debt-ridden country to some dangerous and expensive adventures. On the other hand, such a “serious national issue” could postpone any elections, especially the snap polls as main opposition demands….




Cuprus EEZ: yellow line: maritime borders according to agreements (picture from Hellas Frappe)

More on Cyprus – Turkey Maritime Dispute here

For those who ask why Greece and Turkey are involved in Cyprus. Greece and Turkey are Guarantee Powers in Cyprus according to the Treaty of 1960.

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