Athens is preparing for all scenarios with regard to Greek-Turkish relations as it awaits the outcome of a fresh initiative by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the next steps of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whether he will up the ante further by extending exploratory activities or shift toward dialogue.
According to government sources, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has consciously chosen not to respond to the Turkish provocations. His message is clear, the sources said, citing the premier’s appeal last week for provocations to stop so that talks can begin.
For her part, Merkel is working to get a clear grasp of Erdogan’s intentions in the runup to a European Union leaders’ summit on September 24 and 25 which will discuss possible sanctions against Ankara.
A key date before that could be September 12, when the latest illegal Turkish navigational advisory, or navtex, for the Oruc Reis survey vessel is to expire. If it is extended, and the Oruc Reis enters Greek waters off Kastellorizo, it will be clear that Erdogan will have chosen the path of conflict.
Athens is also bracing for the possibility of the Turkish Energy Ministry granting licenses to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) to explore in areas marked out in Turkey’s maritime borders deal with Libya, which could bring Turkish vessels close to Rhodes, Kassos, Karpathos and Crete.
In any case, Merkel is expected to play a crucial role in further developments. Despite the public intervention of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to de-escalate tensions, it is clear that Washington is letting Berlin lead the effort to diffuse tensions.
In the event that Erdogan opts for dialogue, questions remain about how it will be conducted. Athens wants talks to focus only on the issue of the continental shelf and maritime zones. Questions also remain as to the kind of “moratorium” that would apply. According to sources, Athens wants at least a month to elapse after the withdrawal of Turkish ships before the two sides can start talks. Berlin and Washington want a shorter hiatus – about a fortnight. Berlin wants any agreement to be reached within four months; otherwise, the issues should be deferred to the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
Meanwhile negotiations aimed at boosting Greece’s aging defense capabilities are proceeding, with Mitsotakis expected to make announcements soon on planned acquisitions.