European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday unanimously condemned Turkey for its aggression toward Greece and Cyprus and called on Ankara to release two Greek soldiers who have been in Turkish custody for more than three weeks.
In a draft common statement, the European Council “strongly condemns Turkey’s continued illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea” and underlines its “full solidarity with Cyprus and Greece.”
The draft noted that “the European Council urgently calls on Turkey to cease these actions and respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources in accordance with EU and International Law.”
The draft also expressed “grave concern” about the continued detention of EU citizens in Turkey and called for the “swift and positive resolution of these issues in a dialogue with member-states.”
Arriving at the Brussels summit, Tsipras said it was important the EU insist on Turkey respecting international laws but also to keep dialogue open with Ankara.
Just a few hours later, Turkish aircraft carried out the latest in a series of violations in the Aegean.
Two Turkish F-16s harassed a Chinook helicopter that had been carrying the head of the armed forces, Lieutenant General Alkiviadis Stefanis, from the small island of Ro to Rhodes.
The pilots of the Turkish F-16s called on the helicopter to withdraw, claiming that it was in Turkish air space, before being chased off by Greek jets.
The talks in Brussels, which continue on Friday, come ahead of Monday’s scheduled meeting between EU leaders and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Varna, Bulgaria.
Diplomats in Brussels stressed the importance of keeping channels of communication open with Ankara, with which the EU signed a deal to curb illegal migration in 2016.
But clearly concerns about Turkey linger, in Brussels and beyond. According to a statement issued by Tsipras’s office, the Greek premier spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by telephone, discussing “developments in the Eastern Mediterranean with particular emphasis on the stance of Turkey.”
Later the Kremlin said Putin invited Tsipras to Russia.
Separately, the White House said that US President Donald Trump spoke Thursday with Erdogan to “reaffirm the importance of strong relations between the United States and Turkey.”
Meanwhile there were fresh concerns over reports in a Turkish newspaper according to which the two Greek soldiers in custody in Turkey are being investigated by Turkish authorities for alleged espionage.
According to Hurriyet, Turkish authorities found “sketches of military installations” during a search on the soldiers’ cell phones and on an encrypted phone they were allegedly carrying at the time of their arrest.
The newspaper’s claims that the two soldiers are being charged with attempted military espionage and illegal entry into a restricted military area had not been confirmed by late last night.