Despite the positive rhetoric emanating from the recent meeting between Greek and Turkish Defense Ministers Nikos Panagiotopoulos and Hulusi Akar in Brussels, Ankara has not backed down from its policy of exercising constant military pressure and raising diplomatic hurdles to the efforts for the launch of a dialogue between the two countries or even to improve channels of communication with Athens.
On a diplomatic level, Ankara has insisted that a moratorium on drilling in Cyprus’ continental shelf must be imposed before any progress is made on the front of Greek-Turkish relations.
On the military front, up until Thursday, Turkey had conducted 92 overflights over Greek islands since the beginning of the year. If the current rate of overflights persists, a 20-year record will be set. Last year was the worst with 124 overflights, while the figures in all previous years were significantly lower – 47 in 2018, 39 in 2017, 57 in 2016 and 36 in 2015.
To make matters worse, the moratorium on Cypriot energy drilling that Turkey has demanded, and which was announced two weeks ago by Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy, is seen as untenable as it concerns Cyprus, and cannot, by default, be a subject of negotiation between Greece and Turkey.
Moreover, the gridlock has further tightened due to the rapid progress of Cyprus’ energy program, as well as the absence from developments, at this phase, of the United Kingdom – one of the island’s three guarantor powers along with Greece and Turkey – due to Brexit.
Tellingly, the barrage of overflights has taken place as teams from both countries prepare to hold technical talks on confidence building measures (CBMs) between February 17 and 21 in Athens. Under these circumstances, it has been deemed extremely difficult for Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias to meet with his counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, not only Friday, on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, but even at the Antalya Diplomatic Forum on March 27-29 to which he has been invited.
If the debate on CBMs proceeds smoothly and is followed by another round of contacts at the level of the two general secretaries of their respective foreign ministries, conditions could be created for substantive contacts at a higher level.
At the same time, Dendias visited Algiers Thursday, where he met with his Algerian counterpart, Sabri Boukadoum.
After the meeting he said that both Greece and Algeria agreed that any foreign intervention in Libya should be stopped. He also stressed that the deals signed by the Tripoli-based government and Turkey are moving in the opposite direction.