Ankara and Athens: winds of war in the eastern Mediterranean
The recent discovery of important natural gas fields in the area has triggered an escalation of tension. Last week rival military exercises: on one side Turkey and the United States, on the other Greece, France, Italy and Cyprus. The "sultan" Erdogan relaunches the "blue homeland" project. Western diplomat: "serious consequences" from a small mistake.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) - The recent discovery of important natural gas fields enclosed in the subsoil of the eastern Mediterranean has exacerbated long standing disputes and tensions between Turkey and Greece, to the precipice of open confrontation in the (vain) attempt to define maritime borders.
The dispute does not only concern the economic sphere, but also involves social and religious elements as was seen in the recent conversion of the basilica, now a mosque, of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque strongly desired by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The allocation by Ankara of the anti-seismic ship Oruc Reis south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo on 10 August unleashed the ire of Athens and favoured an escalation of tension that continues to this day. On 27 August, tensions between Greece and Turkey worsened, in the context of a very harsh exchange of words on their respective maritime borders and on the hydrocarbons present in the seabed.
Ankara has announced new military manoeuvres and the extension of exploratory missions, while accusing France of wanting to exacerbate the tension by behaving as if it were the "leader of a criminal gang". Germany in an attempt at mediation to calm the spirits called for a "diplomatic solution" to the disputes as soon as possible.
In spite of this, winds of war are blowing in the eastern Mediterranean: The Turkish government has announced the extension of the Oric Reis exploration mission until 1 September, in an area also claimed by Greece. The Ankara navy will also carry out "shooting exercises" on the first and second of September off Iskenderun, an area off the island of Cyprus, which is also the scene of territorial disputes.
The tensions between neighbouring nations are compounded by the game of their respective alliances on a regional and international level: during the week there were rival military exercises, which saw Turkish and US warships on the one hand and Greek and Cypriot, French and Italians in the cruisers on the other in the eastern sector.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is calling for a mediation that puts an end to the crisis. “We need a diplomatic solution” he adds, because nobody wants to “solve it with warships” in the Mediterranean.
France has sent a warning to Turkey, stating that the eastern sector of the sea cannot become "a playground" for the "ambitions" of each nation, since it represents a "common good" in which "respect for international rights" must apply.
Turkey's response was immediate through the mouth of the "sultan" Erdogan, who warned that there will be no "concessions" in the defence of the country's strategic interests, at an economic, energy, military and commercial level. Without naming it, he then turned to Greece exhorting it to "avoid mistakes" that could lead to "ruin". "Our armed forces remain on the alert - replied Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a session in Parliament - Greece is as strong in dialogue as it is on the battlefield".
In these events, Erdogan's nationalist policy emerges with renewed vigor, relaunching a motto first coined in 2006 by former admiral of the Turkish navy Cem Gürdeniz, that of the "blue homeland". It intends to impose the sovereignty of Ankara over an area of 462,000 km2 that embraces the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean and is deemed necessary for the nation's "prosperity" and "security". "The situation - observes a Western diplomat behind anonymity - is very volatile and the slightest miscalculation could have serious consequences".