Turkey has made two key moves over the past two weeks. First, it submitted a letter to the United Nations reiterating, for a sixth time, its claims in the Eastern Mediterranean. Along with the two-page letter, Ankara resubmitted a three-page document listing the coordinates of areas it claims to own. The document leaves no room for misunderstanding with regard to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “kazan-kazan” statement. (The phrase, which means “win-win” in Turkish, was uttered by Erdogan at the end of a Greece-Turkey meeting in 2013 in reference to the prospect of jointly exploiting the hydrocarbon reserves in areas within Ankara’s sphere of interest.) Ankara deems that the area extending between Rhodes and Cyprus is Turkish. It is inviting Greece for talks on delineating the sea territory stretching west of Rhodes and all the way to Crete. Ankara is willing to discuss the prospect of joint exploitation in this area. Needless to say that views of this sort insinuate that Greece is a nation with compromised sovereignty.
Turkey’s second move was the maritime boundaries agreement signed with Libya’s internationally recognized government. The deal carries great strategic weight. Until now, Turkey has been interpreting existing legal regimes that relied on past international treaties in its own way. From now on, it will have its own treaty that aspires to build a new legal regime. The agreement may be illegal through and through, but that will not stop Ankara from constantly referring to it.
Both moves confirm what we have been witnessing since May, when the Turkish oil-and-gas drilling ship Fatih appeared off Cyprus’ western coast. Turkey has switched gear and wants to revise the existing status quo without delay.
This also explains Ankara’s stance on the Cyprus issue. Until recently, Turkey was in favor of holding a five-party meeting involving the island’s three guarantor powers and the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities. The 2017 talks in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, saw Turkey meet that objective in terms of composition. However, it did not succeed in terms of results. Now its interest in a fresh five-party meeting has suddenly ceased. The reason supposedly is that it is waiting for the outcome of the elections in the Turkish-occupied north (where it does not want to see the re-election of incumbent Mustafa Akinci).
In fact, the reasons for the delay lie elsewhere. The Turkish research vessel Barbaros, which is plowing back and forth across Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), appears to have detected a big deposit in Block 3, which the Republic of Cyprus has licensed to Italy’s Eni. In February 2018, a drillship hired by Eni was stopped by Turkish military vessels. Ankara’s aim is to proceed with drilling, discovery and exploitation in Block 3. Should this happen, when the five-party talks eventually take place, Turkey would be in the same position as Cyprus, in that it would also have discovered hydrocarbon reserves and developed one of them.
While Turkish foreign policy is rapidly changing the landscape, Turkey is close to breaking its ties to the West and putting its NATO membership at risk. Ankara is primarily focusing its attention on the Middle East because of Syria’s Kurds. At the same time, with the exception of Qatar, it has grown extremely isolated from the states of the Middle East. Finally, relations with Russia are in the best shape since 1922.
Turkey is stretching the rules on the international game of geopolitics. The chances of effective diplomatic pressure from Greece’s traditional allies are limited.
What does this all mean for Greek foreign policy? In order to meet Turkey’s accelerating speed, we also need to change our pace. Existing alliances cannot protect us against Turkey’s increasing aggression.
On top of our traditional allies, we must also focus on the new Eastern Mediterranean partnerships. Trilateral meetings are fine, but unless these new schemes move into the area of security, our relations with Israel and Egypt will never take a strategic dimension.
Angelos Syrigos is a New Democracy MP and associate professor of international law and foreign policy at Athens’ Panteion University.