Greek officials expect two moves by Turkey that will ratchet up tensions between the two nominal allies another notch this summer, to levels not seen since 2020.
The first move would be an official challenge to the sovereignty of several Aegean Sea islands, either through a letter by Turkey’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Feridun Sinirlioglu to the UN secretary-general or a note. This is the old “gray zones” tactic pursued by Turkey since the 1990s. In any case, Athens is ready to counter such a move, as it did late last month when it responded in a letter to the UN to Turkish arguments about the demilitarization of Greek islands.
The second move under consideration in Ankara is to award an exploration license to state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation in an area between the islands of Rhodes and Crete, that is, west of the 28th meridian east, which passes through Rhodes. This would represent an escalation in Turkish claims. Its argument has always been that islands do not have a continental shelf, or exclusive economic zone, of their own, but, so far, it has essentially limited this claim to Greece’s easternmost island, Kastellorizo. Turkey would now dispute the sovereign rights of more, and larger, islands.
Whatever Turkey’s actual intentions, Greek officials are fairly convinced that tensions will escalate, not the opposite. And this is at least partly because of the political polarization in Turkey ahead of the June 2023 elections, both presidential and parliamentary, and the low standing of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the polls. Greek officials believe the latest moves, including Erdogan’s unprecedented attacks on Greece on Twitter late Thursday – published also in Greek, for good measure – are a sign of nervousness and believe that there are safety valves that will not allow escalation to reach “off-the-charts” levels.
One such safety valve, Athens believes, is the communication channel between US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Erdogan’s chief adviser and presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin. The two are likely to meet in the near future to help repair US-Turkish relations. Greek officials hope that the US will counsel Turkey to moderate its stance toward a NATO ally, at the time when the Alliance faces the challenge of Russian aggression.