Tensions between Turkey and Greece which have been simmering for a while now, have flared up again in recent days over the disputes in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar called on Greece to demilitarize 16 Aegean islands near Turkey, whereas Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis once again slammed Ankara’s maritime deal with Libya.
The latest statements are expected to exacerbate the already strained relations between the two countries. The two neighbors are already at loggerheads over decades-old issues ranging from mineral rights in the Aegean Sea to ethnically-split Cyprus.
Akar said on Jan. 22 that Greece’s arming 16 out of 23 islands in the Aegean Sea was “in violation of agreements,” calling on Athens “to act according to international law, agreements and good neighborly relations.”
The Turkish defense minister also said that Turkey will continue to stand by the people of the Turkish Cyprus. “Cyprus is our issue. We did whatever we needed to do there until now, and will continue to do so,” Akar said while visiting Turkish defense contractor Roketsan.
The island of Cyprus was divided in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a Greek-inspired coup. The southern Cyprus, an EU member, has argued with Turkey for years over the ownership of fossil fuels in the eastern Mediterranean, thought to be rich in natural gas.
Turkey’s recent deal with Libya has ramped up tensions with southern Cyprus and Greece, with various media outlets saying that the Greek government has been preparing for the worst regarding the country’s relations with Ankara.
Greece and southern Cyprus perceive the new deal as a Turkish move to maximize its economic and strategic influence in the Mediterranean Sea. The new maritime boundary transects an area claimed by Greece and southern Cyprus and gives Turkey a significant say in transnational gas exploration and pipeline construction. Ankara says it is acting to protect its rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the region’s energy reserves.
Greek PM says no EU deal on Libya unless Turkey accord scrapped
Mitsotakis once again slammed the Turkey-Libya deal on Jan. 23, saying the European Union will not agree to a political solution to Libya’s factional conflict unless the accord is scrapped.
“I have made it very clear to everyone concerned that there is not going to be a political solution in Libya to which the EU will have to agree, where will agree, unless these agreements are scrapped,” Mitsotakis told a conference panel at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
“We all know that this agreement was signed in exchange for Turkey’s military support to the Fayez al-Serraj government, and, on top of that, it’s an agreement that has not been recognized by the Libyan legislature,” Mitsotakis said.
Greek Cyprus says Turkey ‘pirate state’ after planned drilling
Mitsotakis’ comments came after Cyprus government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos on Jan. 22 denounced Turkey as “pirate state” and claimed Turkey might have stolen data that enabled it to send a drilling ship to a specific location off the coast of Cypriot coastal town of Limassol that energy companies Eni and Total had pre-selected to carry out their own exploratory drilling.
“There’s information, which is probably correct, that they had stolen plans and studies from a specific company, that’s why they went to the specific spot,” Koushos told Greece’s state broadcaster ERT. But a day later, on Jan. 23, Koushos backtracked on his claim, telling The Associated Press in an interview that the word “stolen” he had uttered was a mistaken “a slip of the tongue” and that no such data theft had occurred.
Koushos said that data might have been gleaned from a Turkish research vessel that had scoured the area — also known as Block 8 — in search of geological information hinting there were gas deposits locked underneath the seabed.