Athens said on Monday that it was concerned but not “panicking” over a large concentration of Turkish naval forces in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean as part of a large military exercise, as well as the movement of the Oruc Reis survey vessel near the Greek continental shelf.
“We are monitoring the movements of the Turkish ships. We are watching everything. We are concerned, but we are not panicking. Of course we are not scared,” Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos told Parapolitika radio on Monday, referring to the Kararlilik (determination) exercise, which began on Monday and will end on September 23, covering an area stretching from the island of Limnos in the northeast Aegean all the way to Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The scale of the exercise as well as the overall climate in the region in recent months, mainly due to initial pronouncements emanating from Ankara that the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) would begin exploratory activities within Greece’s continental shelf, placed both the Hellenic National Defense General Staff (GEETHA) and the Hellenic Navy General Staff on standby.
Tensions had mounted in recent months after TPAO requested the the assistance of the Turkish Navy so that it could prospect for hydrocarbons within Greece’s continental shelf south of the southeastern Aegean island of Kastellorizo and west of Cyprus. These intentions were revealed in two exclusives by Kathimerini in April and July.
However, despite these concerns, Ankara’s latest navigational telex on Monday reserved an area for the Oruc Reis to conduct seismic research which is clearly outside the Greek continental shelf and clearly within Turkey’s jurisdiction, as well as a part of Cyprus’ continental shelf.
Analysts have attributed Turkey’s decision not to send the Oruc Reis within Greece’s continental shelf to behind-the-scenes diplomacy between Athens and Ankara as well as the prospects for a resumption of Cyprus talks.
Moreover, Ankara’s change of course may also have been prompted by the imminent first meeting between Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month.