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Greece, Turkey withdraw ships from Imia but Cyprus stalemate remains

TAGS: Defense, Diplomacy, Turkey

The tension between Greece and Turkey after the incident near the Imia islets in the eastern Aegean on Monday night showed signs of de-escalation Wednesday as both Greek and Turkish vessels withdrew from the vicinity.

The de-escalation came as Athens seeks to highlight Ankara’s provocative stance in the Aegean and Cyprus as a threat not just to Greece, but to the borders of the European Union and the wider region as well.

To this end sources on Wednesday said that Athens will seek to activate the EU’s mutual defense clause that calls for solidarity between member-states in dealing with external threats. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday he was “strictly against the behavior of Turkey.” The initial stance of the EU has been well received in Athens, which says the escalation by Turkey is intentional as, according to government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, Ankara finds itself in a difficult position on both the domestic and international fronts.

“[Turkey] has opened up many fronts at the same time and this has contributed to nervousness and a tendency to increase its provocations,” he said, adding that “any move by Turkey will be answered not just by the Greek side but by the EU and international organizations.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos told his NATO counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday that there is no doubt that Turkey is escalating tension intentionally. He presented audiovisual material to back his claim.

Statements by Turkish Premier Binali Yildirim on Wednesday suggested Ankara is entering phase of de-escalation, but the government said it will remain on full alert. Yildirim said that the Aegean should be a sea of friendship and refrained from repeating the claim made by the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Tuesday that Imia belongs to Turkey – even though he blamed Monday’s incident on Greek violations.

Tensions on Cyprus however remain, as Turkish warships continued their naval blockade of Block 3 in the island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Moreover, Yildirim reportedly told Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that Nicosia cannot continue with hydrocarbon exploration without a solution to the Cyprus problem. The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed hope that all interested states will act in accordance with international law as regards the situation in Cyprus’s EEZ.

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