As tensions build over Turkey’s continued detention of two Greek soldiers who accidentally crossed the border, Turkish aggression off the coast of Cyprus is further upsetting the fragile balance in the region.
Ahead of exploration activities by American oil giant Exxon, which started on Sunday and run through April 20, Turkish authorities have boosted their presence in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), dispatching the frigate Barbaros and three corvettes.
Meanwhile a joint military exercise between the US and Israel is under way the region. And the increased activity in the area is being closely watched by Russia, which has a nuclear-powered submarine in the eastern Mediterranean.
According to well-informed sources, the task group of the amphibious USS Iwo Jima, which is involved in the joint exercise with Israel, is also monitoring Russia’s activity in the area.
In this volatile climate, officials in Athens and Nicosia are also closely observing developments ahead of a scheduled meeting between European Union and Turkish leaders in Varna, Bulgaria, on March 26. If Turkey ups the ante further, it is not out of the question that Greece and Cyprus may seek to veto the meeting.
Statements by both Greek and Turkish officials over the weekend underscored the spike in tensions. In an interview with French daily Liberation, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos declared that “Greece is very close to a fatal accident with Turkey,” referring to Turkish violations of Greek air space and territorial waters. “We are obliged to defend our territory which is not only Greek but also European,” he said. Late last week, meanwhile, Kammenos had referred to two Greek soldiers being detained in Turkey as “hostages.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with German weekly Die Zeit published on Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusogu said Turkey’s judiciary was seeking to determine whether the Greek soldiers crossed into Turkey by accident or deliberately. Asked whether Ankara was considering exchanging the two men with eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece following an attempted Turkish coup in 2016, Cavusoglu ruled out such a prospect. “We do not want such an agreement,” he said.