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EU threatens Turkey with sanctions over Med drilling

August 28, 2020

Greece's foreign minister has told DW the threat of sanctions is "a success for our common European family." But Turkey says targeting its "legitimate" search for gas in the Mediterranean will only increase tensions.

Turkey and the US conduct military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The European Union on Friday warned Turkey it could face fresh sanctions unless it takes steps to defuse an escalating dispute with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean.

Tensions between the neighbors have spiraled in recent weeks, with Ankara continuing to drill for oil and natural gas in waters contested by Greece near the island of Cyprus.

Both countries have also been carrying out military exercises in the region, sparking concerns about the possibility of a confrontation.

Speaking at the end of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Berlin, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the new sanctions would aim to limit Turkey's energy exploration activities by targeting individuals and ships, and blocking the use of European ports. Economic sanctions are also a possibility, he said, adding that any decision on those measures would be left until the bloc's summit on September 24-25.

"Turkey has to abstain from unilateral actions. This is a basic element to allow the dialogue to advance,'' Borrell told reporters.

He also said the EU was keen to establish a "healthier relationship'' with Turkey, which is a member of NATO and a candidate for joining the bloc, although its accession talks are currently on ice.

Read more: Opinion: Greece and Turkey have to sacrifice to find real compromise

EU set to sanction Turkey

Confronting 'illegal behavior'

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told DW the EU's support and threat of sanctions was "a success for our common European family."

"We are facing Turkish aggression, Turkish illegal behavior, and behavior which goes against international law and the international law of the sea," he said.

Read moreGermany's Maas calls on Greece and Turkey to avoid 'catastrophe'

Turkey, which rejects Greece's maritime claims and says its drilling activities fall within its own exclusive economic zone, said the EU had "no authority" to demand it stop a "legitimate" search for resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

"As Turkey each time emphasizes dialogue and diplomacy, the EU's recourse to the language of sanctions will not help resolve existing problems and will in fact push our country's determination further," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement.

"If the EU wants to find a solution in the eastern Mediterranean, they should act without bias," he said.

Growing conflict

Focus on de-escalation

The squabble over energy resources has reignited past conflicts between Ankara and Athens. The rivals nearly went to war in 1996 over uninhabited islands in the Aegean Sea. 

Berlin has taken an active role in mediating between the two countries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed on Friday that it was important to ensure that the row "doesn't come to a further escalation."

That sentiment was echoed by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, who called for "dialogue and de-escalation" in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish presidency said Erdogan told Stoltenberg that "NATO should fulfill its responsibility against unilateral steps that disregard international law and harms regional peace."

Meanwhile, Greece and the UAE began joint air force training exercises in the eastern Mediterranean on Friday. The drills began as Greece, France, Italy and Cyprus wrapped up a 3-day sea and air exercise.

nm/rt (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)