Turkey prolonging East Med standoff

Turkey prolonging East Med standoff

As international players intensify their efforts to bring Athens and Ankara from the brink, Turkey’s decision to extend the presence of its Oruc Reis survey vessel in the Greek continental shelf until September 1 with the navigational advisory (or navtex) it issued on Thursday is expected to prolong the intense standoff between the two countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The decision follows statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior officials who said the Oruc Reis would only leave the region once it completes its mission. 

With the new navtex the Oruc Reis will continue to move within the Greek continental shelf, this time slightly further north toward the island of Kastellorizo.

Mounting tensions have also expedited international diplomatic mobility with German Chancellor Angela Merkel expected to hold talks with Erdogan on Friday, while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also reiterated the call for dialogue. At the same time sanctions are currently being discussed at the informal European Union Council of Foreign Ministers which began on Thursday.

Moreover, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis received a second phone call on Thursday from US President Donald Trump, who informed him about the conversation he had earlier with Erdogan.

According to a brief statement from the Turkish presidency’s communications directorate, Erdogan told the US president that “it was not Turkey that caused instability in the Eastern Mediterranean and stressed that Turkey showed its support for de-escalation and dialogue.”

Even though much is not known about the content of their conversation, some reports indicated that Turkey’s behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean is a matter of concern for Washington. 

What’s more, some reports suggested that if Ankara continues to fuel tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, the pending sanctions against Ankara over its procurement of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles could be activated.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Greece’s Parliament ratified an agreement with Egypt which defines maritime boundaries between the two countries – a step which Turkey considers an affront. The deal, which has already been ratified by Egypt’s Parliament, was approved with 178 votes from New Democracy and the center-left Movement for Change (KINAL) alliance.

Eighty-one SYRIZA opposition lawmakers voted “present.” A total of 26 MPs from the Greek Communist Party (KKE), the nationalist Greek Solution and the anti-austerity MeRA25 party voted against the agreement.

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