Athens bracing for a protracted crisis with Turkey

Athens is preparing on both a diplomatic and military level for a protracted crisis in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean until at least the end of the year when the European Union’s ultimatum to Turkey expires in December.

Other crucial political milestones will be the U.S. election on Nov. 3 and the void created until the president is sworn in on Jan. 20.

In the meantime, the Navtex issued by Turkey for the exploratory activities of its Oruç Reis survey vessel will expire on October 22, and it remains to be seen how Athens will react if it sails in an area between six and 12 nautical miles from the island of Kastellorizo. 

In an interview with Kathimerini, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Turkey’s renewed deployment of the Oruç Reis off Kastellorizo was “a very bad surprise”.

Greece’s armed forces remain on high alert for the possibility of any further provocation but a military strike by its naval forces has been approved only in the event that Turkish forces make the first move.

This does not mean that there are no scenarios on how to obstruct the Oruç Reis by other means, if necessary. The Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff (GEETHA) Konstantinos Floros and the Chief of the Hellenic Navy General Staff Stylianos Petrakis, in cooperation with fleet commander Panagiotis Lymperis, have reshaped Greece’s strategy, which until recently was based mainly on the Aegean Sea and not the eastern Mediterranean.

On the diplomatic front, Athens expects new initiatives from Berlin, and if they do not succeed in countering Turkey’s aggression it will seek tough EU sanctions. Meanwhile Greece aims to deepen ties with Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and other countries troubled by Turkish expansionism.

The protracted crisis also means that plans are afoot to strengthen Greece’s armed forces and their infrastructure.

In terms of operations, there are fears that the next escalation by Ankara would be to send a drillship to the area where the Oruç Reis survey vessel has been active. If the Oruç Reis points to the existence of hydrocarbons, Ankara could escalate by dispatching the Yavuz drilling vessel. Another scenario is Ankara proceeding with research in the areas included in the Turkish-Libyan maritime borders memorandum which violates Greek rights.

(A version of this article was originally published by Kathimerini and reproduced with permission.)