Concerns grow as Turkey's Oruç Reis gets closer to Greek island

As Turkey’s Oruç Reis research vessel approaches the Greek island of Kastellorizo, amid fears that the next navigational advisory, or Navtex, issued by Turkey will bring it even closer, Athens is adamant that it will not start talks with Ankara until the Oruç Reis and its accompanying warships withdraw from the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Reports in the Turkish press claiming that “technical talks” are to begin between Greek and Turkish representatives to NATO on Thursday are being seen in Athens as another attempt by Ankara to suggest that Greece is not open to dialogue. In fact, Thursday is the expiry of a deadline that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had given to Greece’s and Turkey’s military representatives to the alliance to respond to his proposals for talks on de-escalating tensions. 

On Wednesday, the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s principal political decision-making body, is to convene to discuss two issues: Russia and tensions in the East Med. Greece’s permanent representative to the alliance will broach the issue of Turkish aggression in the region. 

Greek government sources repeated on Tuesday that a necessary condition for the de-escalation of tensions is the withdrawal of Turkish ships. They added that “a political discussion among NATO allies must precede and set the parameters of any technical talks.” Sept. 12 is seen as a key date as that is when the current Turkish Navtex expires. 

During a teleconference of the presidency of the European People’s Party on Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he presented “evidence of the provocative actions of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean.” “Greece is an advocate for dialogue,” he said. “However real dialogue cannot be pursued under threat or violations of our sovereign rights,” he said. 

The lack of appetite from Ankara for reducing tensions was clear on Tuesday in new statements by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Apart from once again questioning the right of Kastellorizo to a continental shelf, he also accused Greece of undermining the rights of Muslim citizens of Thrace and even of killing migrants. 

Meanwhile, during a visit to Nicosia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was ready to help ease tensions in the East Med and to help start “genuine dialogue” aimed at producing “mutually acceptable solutions".

(This article was originally published in Kathimerini newspaper and is reprinted by permission.)