A useful break in East Med tensions

The crisis appears to have been averted – for now. Up until Saturday afternoon, it was almost certain that Ankara had been intending to notch up the pressure and test Athens’ tolerance even further.

However, mediation efforts steered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in combination with the mobilisation of the American diplomatic machine, brought results.

There was even concern in Athens that Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou’s visit to the island of Kastellorizo on Sunday would be seen as an excuse by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to make some move that would scupper the possibility of exploratory talks. He had made such a move in reaction to the maritime border deal signed between Greece and Egypt and tried it again in reaction to the statements of French President Emmanuel Macron and the meeting of the Med7 summit in Corsica.

It is clear that Turkey has come under an immense amount of pressure. The recent downgrade of its credit rating has been attributed to geopolitical risks and the messages being sent to Ankara are strict.

Despite the apparent de-escalation, however, the situation will not be easy. There are conflicting power centres at play in Ankara, with some playing hardball and setting unattainable terms for the restart of a dialogue between Greece and Turkey. A lot of venom has been poured in recent weeks in the form of statements and provocations, and it will take a long time for the situation to return to normal, if it ever does so entirely.

The good news, though, is that Greece has bought some time. Its military upgrade programme contains – finally – instant returns. The runup to the U.S. presidential elections is a period fraught with danger and a crisis with Turkey until that time is not in Greece’s interest. The armed forces that held the gates with such exceptional fortitude by working nonstop also need a break.

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