Turkey appeared to be stoking tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean on Thursday by sending a Turkish research vessel to a part of the region that includes a segment of Greece’s continental shelf.
The Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa seismic survey vessel started conducting research in the area on Tuesday night, prompting the Greek Foreign Ministry to issue a statement protesting the “new provocation” by Turkey and saying that it had sent a “strong demarche” to Turkish authorities. Greek defense officials issued a radio warning to the Turkish vessel, which retreated. Turkish authorities subsequently dispatched two frigates to the scene and the Hellenic Navy’s Nikiforos Fokas frigate remained in the area on Thursday, monitoring the Barbaros’s movements.
Meanwhile Greek defense authorities were considering their next move. If the Barbaros re-enters Greek waters, Athens will be faced with a dilemma: either to issue another radio warning or to increase Greece’s naval presence in the area to match Turkey’s, a move that could escalate into a standoff.
Greek authorities are keen to avoid the second option as it could fuel tensions in a sensitive region with other foreign vessels close by, including a US Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and a Russian Navy vessel.
On Tuesday, Ankara issued a navigational telex expressing its intention to conduct gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean through February 1. The bulk of the area it has reserved covers Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, with about 10 percent encroaching on the Greek continental shelf.
Tensions peaked on Thursday when Turkish press reports suggested there had been a confrontation between the Barbaros and a Hellenic Navy frigate, claims that were denied by Greek defense sources.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement focused on Tuesday’s statement by the Greek ministry, describing it as “completely baseless.” “The insistence of Greece on its unrealistic claims will only be counterproductive and harmful as regards bilateral relations and regional stability,” the statement said, adding that, “Turkey will continue to exercise its sovereign rights.” “We recommend Greece to abstain from the acts that would cause an escalation in the region.”