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Greece accuses Turkey of a 'major escalation'

October 12, 2020

Greece has condemned Turkey's decision to send its Oruc Reis research ship back to the eastern Mediterranean. Both nations have overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in the region.

Oruc Reis in Istanbul
Image: Reuters/Y. Isik

Greece on Monday accused Turkey of fanning tensions in the eastern Mediterranean following Ankara's announcement it would send a Turkish survey vessel on a research mission in the disputed waters.

"We call on Turkey to recall its decision," Greece's Foreign Ministry said, adding that the new survey amounted to a "major escalation and a direct threat to peace and security in the region.''

A spokesman for Germany's government also said it would be an unwise move for Turkey to resume its exploration activities.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the activity range of its Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel lied 15 kilometers from Turkey and 425 kilometers from Greece, and that it was "fully within Turkish continental shelf."

"It is unacceptable for there to be opposition against our country, which has the longest coastline to the Eastern Mediterranean, operating 15 kilometers from its mainland," the statement read, adding that Greece's criticisms were "baseless accusations with no standing in international law."

The Turkish navy said Sunday its vessel would remain in the region until October 22, according to a message sent to maritime alert system NAVTEX.

The Oruc Reis research ship will travel near the Greek island of Kastellorizo as a part of its operation. It will be joined by two other vessels, the Ataman and Cengiz Han.

Tensions between Turkey and Greece heightened in August after the gas exploration ship entered disputed waters in the east Mediterranean, flanked by warships. Turkey claimed the ship was on a mission to research "seismic activity" even though Greece laid claim to the waters, which could hold natural gas. The move was harshly criticized by the European Union and Greece.

The Oruc Reis came back to Turkish shores last month in what was seen as a potential end to the political crisis. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the time it was to give diplomacy a chance, but Turkish officials said it was done to undergo planned maintenance and that the ship would return to the water.

EU set to sanction Turkey

Talks abound

Hope for easing tensions was again renewed when both countries agreed to a NATO-brokered deal to restart a dialogue on the dispute.

Last week, Turkish and Greek foreign ministers met on the side of a security forum in the Slovakian capital Bratislava. Those were the highest-level talks since the tensions began.

Turkey's decision to deploy its research ship so soon after these developments showed Turkey is "unreliable" and "does not really truly want a dialogue," the Greek Foreign Ministry said.

At a summit earlier in October, the EU threatened to place sanctions on Turkey if it failed to stop what the bloc considered illegal drilling and energy exploration in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece. Turkey called the threat "unconstructive."

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is scheduled to visit Turkey on Wednesday, according to Turkish state broadcaster TRT. The eastern Mediterranean will likely be high on the agenda.

kbd/shs (AFP, Reuters)