“Why did Mitsotakis invite Haftar to Greece? Did he just want to provoke us?” an annoyed Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on his return from the Berlin conference on the Libya crisis regarding the meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar in Athens on Friday.
The Turkish president was allegedly told by a foreign leader participating in the summit that “Mitsotakis wants to bridge the gap between us.” To which Erdogan replied: “He really wants that and he invites Haftar to Greece? This is nonsense. I answered that he should first correct this mistake and then it will be easy for us to meet.”
Erdogan was basically saying that Mitsotakis was undermining Greek-Turkish relations by engaging in “provocations,” which is how he describes a meeting of the Greek prime minister with the leader of one of two rival factions in a country which neighbors Greece, as is the case with Libya.
Interestingly, the Turkish president does not seem to think that Turkey’s drilling inside the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Cyprus, an independent country, a third of which is under Turkish occupation, is a provocation. Nor does he think that flights by Turkish fighter jets over the Aegean Sea, not only between 6 and 10 nautical miles, but also within 6 nautical miles of Greek territory, or, even worse, over islands, are a provocation.
On the other hand, according to Erdogan’s reasoning, Ankara’s signing of a memorandum with the Tripoli-based government (which only controls the North African country’s capital) – a deal which violates the Law of the Sea, has been criticized by many countries as provocative, and was rejected by the Libyan parliament – is not a provocation. Nor is it a provocation when Erdogan declares that Crete, a 8,000-square kilometer island with a long history and a population of 700,000, is not entitled to a continental shelf, as he said yesterday. Nor does violating the arms embargo or the deployment of troops and mercenaries to Libya constitute a provocation.
For some reason, Erdogan seems to think that Turkey should enjoy free rein in the Eastern Mediterranean as other countries in the area are busy engaging in “provocative” moves. “Turkey will also continue to be in Libya until its rights in the Mediterranean are recognized and the legitimate government of the Libyan people, with their 500-year-long ties of brotherhood with our country, is secure,” Erdogan said during a recent inauguration ceremony for a railway project in Istanbul.
“We are determined to use all means of politics, diplomacy and military power in issues concerning Syria, the Mediterranean and Libya,” he added. Which more or less can be summed up as “we will do whatever we want, using any means we deem necessary.” Yet, Erdogan is suggesting that the provocations are coming from across the Aegean.