Shortsighted strategy

Turkey’s growing activity in the Aegean Sea over the past few weeks, despite the summer moratorium agreed between Athens and Ankara, has raised concerns among Greek officials. Foreign Ministry officials here estimate that Turkey has no intention of sparking a crisis but, like the staff at the Ministry of Defense, expect that the period up to December, when Brussels will examine Ankara’s European Union progress, will be rather problematic. According to the usual – albeit convenient – interpretation, the upsurge in Turkish provocations is a byproduct of tension between the Islamic-leaning government and the security establishment or of Ankara’s standard practice of exporting its domestic woes by exerting pressure on Greece. However, the above interpretation misses Turkey’s tendency to systematically advance its longstanding claims at the expense of Greece’s territorial rights. These claims are part of a long-term strategy – an area in which Greece is sorely lacking regardless of the political party in power. The question of oil exploration within the limits of Greece’s continental shelf is not new. Nevertheless, Ankara has used it as a means to cause lower- or higher-level tension since the 1970s, as was the case with the crisis of 1987. Talk of «gray zones» in the Aegean has been systematically cultivated since the Imia standoff in 1996 in an attempt to create the impression that there are supposedly question marks over the status of the Aegean which can be settled only through outside mediation. The flyovers and violations of Greek air space by Turkish fighter jets are also aimed in this direction. Greece has been left fuming at the upgraded Turkish role courtesy of US President Barack Obama and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Athens should shed its passive bystander approach and behave more assertively on the global stage.