US President Donald Trump’s apparent intention not to stand in the way of a Turkish invasion of northern Syria, with his decision to withdraw American troops from the area, has raised concerns in Athens, as it may signify a gradual shift in the balance of power in the region during a period of intense provocations by Ankara against Cyprus.
Moreover, a Turkish invasion of northern Syria could also trigger a new exodus of refugees to Europe, with obvious repercussions for Greece.
Just hours before Trump’s decision enthusiasm had been running high in Athens after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit last weekend.
But what that visit showed was that apart from the opportunities it afforded for cooperation in the fields of defense and infrastructure, it did not suggest any dramatic changes in Washington’s attitude toward Ankara’s activities in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
However, the tightening of defensive cooperation between Athens and Washington did appear to irk Ankara, which proceeded on Monday with a total of 56 air space violations and seven overflights in the Aegean.
Moreover, Turkey’s Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said Monday that the Yavuz drillship will begin prospecting for hydrocarbons within Cyprus’ EEZ “today or tomorrow” – even though Pompeo had said last weekend that the US has made it clear that “illegal drilling is unacceptable.”
The area in question, off the coast of Morphou, falls within Block 7 of Cyprus’ EEZ, where Nicosia has already signed agreements with France’s Total and Italy’s Eni for offshore hydrocarbon exploration.
Donmez’s remarks came as Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias met with his Cyprus counterpart Nikos Christodoulides in Nicosia Monday ahead of an October 14 meeting of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council.
Turkey’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean will be discussed Tuesday by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Cairo, where the seventh tripartite summit between Greece, Egypt and Cyprus is taking place.