Athens is bracing for a prolonged period of tension this summer in view of Turkish preparations to conduct exploratory drilling from the north of Rhodes all the way to the southeast of Crete in 24 plots that are included in a map published in the Turkish government’s gazette outlining areas where Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) has applied for exploration permits.
The plots in question are included in the maritime border deal signed between Ankara and Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) that has been widely denounced as illegal and invalid. Based on Turkish law, TPAO will be able to begin drilling in about three months, so September is considered a critical month.
Sources say that the prevailing assessment is that Ankara will begin exploratory activities in an area off the coast of Crete and not within a range of six nautical miles from the Greek coastline, following joint statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and GNA leader Fayez al-Sarraj in Ankara on Thursday.
Based on the schedule of TPAO, it is clear that both the Barbaros and Oruc Reis research vessels will be mobilized as early as August.
According to the same sources, Athens will most likely react by sending frigates to the region, while behind the scenes consultations are also under way – mainly with France – to establish an international presence in the region, possibly in the form of military exercises.
To make matters worse, Turkey is once again threatening to open its borders for thousands of migrants wanting to cross into Greece and Europe, as it did in early March.
The situation has been further exacerbated by the essential lack of communication between Athens and Erdogan. Well-informed sources say that, through the US, there has been an attempt to create a channel of communication at the military level, apart from the diplomatic one at the embassy level in Athens and Ankara.
The Greek government appears to have a strong will for dialogue with Ankara, especially at this stage when Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is politically dominant, but there is no such signal from the Turkish side. The difficulties are exacerbated by the negative climate for Erdogan at home, due to political fallout from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the poor economic situation.