The prospect of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “testing” the freshly ratified Greek-French agreement, by escalating tensions in the Aegean or in the Eastern Mediterranean, is worrying Athens.
The announcement of research vessel Oruc Reis conducting “exploratory work” north of Cyprus is also indicative of the Turkish intentions.
The Turkish president has found himself in a difficult position after the latest developments, as Athens is being strengthened militarily with the acquisition of three latest-technology frigates, as well as six additional Rafale fighters, bringing the total to 24. Then there is the prospect of supplying an equal number of corvettes as well as the option for a fourth frigate, which changes the balance of forces in the region.
The agreement’s clause of mutual assistance with Paris has been given wide play by Turkish media.
In addition to the strategic nature of the agreement with France, Greece is strengthening ties with Washington with the upcoming five-year extension of the Mutual Defense and Cooperation Agreement (MDCA).
On the other hand, Erdogan is still feeling his way with the Biden administration after a good relationship with Donald Trump. Angela Merkel, who knew how to sound soothing and supportive to Erdogan, is on her way out and the attitude of her successor is a guess. Relations with French President Emanuel Macron are bad and Erdogan is facing serious problems inside Turkey.
In this sense, there is concern about the possibility that Erdogan will try to raise tensions, not in a sense of questioning Greek sovereignty, but reverting to his 2020 stance, to show that the French-Greek deal is inoperative.
The most dangerous scenario is of Turkey deploying a floating drilling rig in areas where the Oruc Reis used to conduct research. Secondly, it can send fishing boats into Greek territorial waters: recently, the Greek Embassy in Ankara protested against illegal fishing by Turkish fishing boats, accompanied by Turkish Coast Guard vessels.
Moreover, Turkey has chosen to resurrect the issue of the “demilitarization” of Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, going as far as to claim, in a letter from its permanent representative to the UN, that demilitarization is a condition of Greek sovereignty over them.