Turkey on Monday kicked off naval exercises to the east and south of the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kastellorizo and announced seismic research for oil and gas exploration in the same area, projecting its military might amid heightened territorial tussles in the eastern Mediterranean.
The naval exercises were announced on Aug. 6 -- the same day Egypt and Greece signed a maritime border agreement to lay out the boundary between the two nations’ exclusive economic zones. Turkey, which has signed a similar maritime deal with Libya with the same purpose, has called the agreement between Greece and Egypt null and void and accused Athens of failing to abide by pledges to bilaterally solve territorial disputes.
Turkey doesn’t recognize Greece’s claim that its territorial waters start immediately south of the island of Kastellorizo, the most distant Greek outpost. The gunnery exercises which will run through Tuesday, according to a Turkish navy website, is a message from Ankara it won’t accept any agreement or move that would limit its own maritime interests in the Mediterranean.
“We were engaged in talks with Greece for the last two-and-a-half months in Berlin and had even agreed on a joint statement but Greece announced its deal with Egypt just a day before it,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told CNN-Turk television in an interview late Sunday. “It is out of question for us to approve any move that will condemn Turkey to the bay of Antalya and exclude it from the eastern Mediterranean. But we still prefer to solve issues through dialog.”
Turkey remains embroiled in territorial disputes with European Union members Greece and Cyprus over gas-rich waters off the island and resumed exploration work in the eastern Mediterranean after the signing of the maritime deal between Greece and Egypt. Turkey had paused drillings at the request of Germany’s Angela Merkel to make easier for her to mediate between Greece and Ankara.
The eastern Mediterranean has become a gas hot spot with big finds for Cyprus, Israel and Egypt in recent years. Turkey -- which sent troops to northern Cyprus in the wake of a 1974 coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece -- vehemently opposes the Cypriot drilling without an agreement on sharing any proceeds. It also has plans to drill in those waters, over the objections of Cyprus, which considers the Turkish exploration an illegal infringement of its territorial sovereignty.
The internationally recognized government of the Republic of Cyprus has licensed several offshore exploration blocks, some of them located in disputed waters. Cyprus has an agreement with Total SA and Eni SpA for oil and natural gas exploration rights in an area where Turkey wants to drill.
The EU has said it is weighing whether to impose sanctions against Turkey over its oil and natural-gas exploration off Cyprus.
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