Athens is observing with concern as Turkey continues to plan to prospect for hydrocarbons south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo despite warnings from the European Union of sanctions over its drilling off Cyprus.
The Turkish Petroleum Corporation, known by its acronym TPAO, has lodged a request with the leadership of the Turkish Navy to conduct seismic research in an area stretching from the south of Rhodes to beyond Kastellorizo after August 15.
By then, the mission of the Turkish Oruc Reis research vessel in the Sea of Marmara will have been completed and and it is deemed likely that it will move to the Eastern Mediterranean toward the end of next month, as Ankara has already indicated.
Greek defense and diplomatic officials are observing Turkey’s maneuvering in the Eastern Mediterranean with growing concern, though the government has repeatedly issued warnings to Ankara, stressing that it is more than ready to defend its territorial integrity.
“Greece does not tolerate threats of war,” Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told Parliament last week. “It’s guide is respect for international law,” he said.
Notwithstanding the tough talk, however, the sense among diplomatic and defense circles in Athens is that Ankara will proceed with plans to dispatch a fourth vessel to the region.
Apart from the Yavuz and Fatih drillships, the Barbaros seismic research vessel is also operating in the area. The arrival of the Oruc Reis would be seen as an additional step in Ankara’s attempt to corner Cyprus and prevent it from its own plans to drill for hydrocarbons in its exclusive economic zone.
The big question for Greek diplomats is who Athens can turn to in the event that Ankara decides to escalate tensions.
Despite a clear statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Dendias that lines of communication between Athens and Washington are open, the precarious state of current ties between the US and Turkey are anything but reassuring.
This instability has prompted Greece to seek to strengthen ties with other key players in the region, such as Israel, which Dendias visited over the weekend.