While we in Greece continue the infighting over the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and, now, the Novartis scandal, the Hellenic world is faced with increased Turkish hostility.
Apart from the remarks by the chief of the Turkish armed forces, Hulusi Akar, about his country’s ability to control the Aegean Sea, Ankara’s hostility is also reflected in its actions in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which culminated on Sunday with the obstruction of a vessel contracted by Italian oil company Eni that was approaching the Block 3 area to explore for natural gas.
This is the most serious threat by Ankara.
The situation is made even more dangerous by developments within Turkey itself as the constant purges of the country’s armed forces have resulted in inexperienced pilots engaging in mock dog fights over the Aegean, increasing the possibility of an accident.
At the same time, the blows Turkey is sustaining in its operations in Syria and on the “Kurdish front” could make it seek to balance these setbacks in the Aegean. Either by accident or as a result of strategic choice, there could be a military incident.
In order for the reaction of Athens and Nicosia to be effective within this volatile region, weakened Greece and small Cyprus must make the most of their European Union membership and the tripartite partnerships with Israel and Egypt, as well as their relationship with the US.
Turkish-American relations have deteriorated dramatically for a number of reasons, including the Kurdish issue and Fethullah Gulen – the cleric whom Turkey accuses of being behind the attempted coup in 2016 and wants extradited from the US.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned there is a danger the relationship could collapse completely.
In a bid to prevent such a development, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster met on Sunday in Istanbul with Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s close aide Ibrahim Kalin, while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to visit Turkey in the coming days and will meet with Erdogan.
The tension between Washington and Ankara provides opportunities but also carries dangers, such as America’s diminished power to influence Turkey.
The stage that is being set, primarily in Cyprus’s EEZ, is an extremely dangerous one.
What is needed, in order to avoid a fait accompli, is discreet planning and careful moves behind the scenes.