The Greek government dismissed on Monday (24 august) Turkey’s stated intention to start a dialogue and de-escalate tensions over gas drillings activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying Ankara is not reliable.
“A reliable interlocutor is needed for a dialogue”, Greek media quoted government sources as saying.
“Under the state of blackmail, one cannot start a dialogue,” the same sources added.
The statements came a day before a crucial visit of German foreign affairs minister Heiko Maas to Athens and Ankara.
Germany has made it clear that dialogue between the two countries should prevail and has asked for immediate de-escalation in the region.
Turkey has sent seismic vessel Oruç Reis accompanied by Turkish navy ships into Greek territorial waters. The mission was supposed to end on 23 August, however Ankara decided to extend it by an extra four days to Thursday.
Ankara claims that Oruç Reis acts within Turkish territory and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he would not “even the smallest step back from the activities of either Oruç Reis or our naval elements escorting it”.
In response to Turkey’s decision, Athens, which is strongly backed by France, decided to hold a military exercise in the region.
Referring to the Greek military exercise, Erdoğan said: “From now on, Greece will have the sole responsibility for any tension in the region. Athens is responsible for the damage it can cause.”
Sending a clear message
Germany, which holds the rotating EU Presidency, pushes for dialogue between the two countries and has been criticised in Athens for its “neutral” stance.
Critics in Greece suggest that Berlin’s stance has been ineffective as it fuels Turkey’s aggressiveness.
On the other hand, France, which has sent frigates in the region, has asked for a tougher EU stance.
At a meeting last week, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that their approaches have not always been the same.
“But they have always been convergent in their desire to make the Eastern Mediterranean an area of freedom, respect for international law and stability,” Macron said.
Maas’ double visit to Athens and Ankara aims to de-escalate growing tensions and help dialogue prevail.
Before his departure for Athens today, Maas commented: “Turkey and Greece are our NATO allies. Solutions to the disputes over the natural gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean can only be found on the basis of international law and in honest dialogue between each other”.
“The tensions are not only a burden on the relationship between the EU and Turkey while further escalation could harm everyone, but above all those directly involved on site,” he added.
Constantinos Filis, Director of the Institute of International Relations of Panteion University, projected that if Maas’ visit is unsuccessful then a new round of row with Turkey should be expected.
“Two months ago, the vicious circle of tension ended with Greek leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis calling Erdoğan, a month ago Merkel intervened, now what can be done?” Filis wondered.
The analyst also said Europe should send a clear message to Ankara that economic sanctions would be imposed in case it continues its illegal activities in the region.
“The Turkish pound is falling. If Europe does not work to impose sanctions we will not see if Erdoğan bluffs with his constant provocations and threats,” Filis said.
Are sanctions feasible?
A crucial meeting of EU foreign minister is scheduled for 27-28 August, in which EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell is expected to present a “toolbox of options” as an EU response to Turkey. According to Mass, Greece’s voice would have “special weight”.
All EU officials avoid using the word “sanctions” publicly although they insist that all options are on the table.
Austria and France push for a tougher EU stance against Ankara, while Germany, Spain, Italy and Hungary have been more cautious.
Sources told EURACTIV that Germany wants to avoid opening a front with Ankara in the light of the resurgence of COVID-19 as well as its still unknown economic implications. Germans are also worried about the Turkish reprisal in the case of sanctions, especially when it comes to migration.
EU countries have different interests in the region. Spain provides Turkey with the know-how for the construction of military aircraft while Italy seems to be closer to Turkey in the context of the civil war in Libya.