EU: naval manoeuvres in eastern Mediterranean ‘extremely worrying’

Greek military on alert as Turkey restarts exploring for gas in resource-rich region

In this photo taken Monday, July 27, 2020, Turkey's research vessel, Oruc Reis, anchored off the coast of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey.  A top Turkish official said Tuesday that Turkey will suspend research for oil and gas exploration in disputed waters in the Eastern Mediterranean. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his aides to "be constructive and put this on hold for some time," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
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The EU on Monday said it was concerned about naval manoeuvres in the eastern Mediterranean as Turkey resumed its energy exploration work in the area.

“They will not contribute to finding any solutions," EU policy chief Josep Borell said. "On the contrary, they will lead to a greater antagonism and distrust.

“The present course of action will not serve the interests of the European Union of Turkey. We have to work together for security in the Mediterranean."

Turkey has restarted its contentious drilling and exploration work in the eastern Mediterranean.

epa08594179 A handout photo made available by the Greek Prime Minister's Office sbows Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis participates via a video connection with world leaders about aid to Lebanon, in Athens, Greece, 09 August 2020. French President Macron organized the donor conference in collaboration with the UN after a large part of Beirut was destroyed by an explosion in the port.  EPA/Greek Prime Minister's Office / Dimitris Papamitsos / HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez on Monday said a Turkish research vessel had resumed operations in the region.

"The seismic research ship Oruc Reis,  which was anchored in Antalya for its new mission in the Mediterranean, has arrived in the area where it will operate," he said on Twitter.

"Our efforts in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea for Turkey's energy independence will continue unabated."

At the same time, a naval warning was issued over Turkey’s intention to carry out operations south of a chain of islands lying between Crete and Cyprus, between August 10 and 23, Greek media reported.

Athens has said its military in the area has been put on alert and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called a meeting of the country’s national security council.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, left, and Khalid Al-Mishri, Head of the Libyan High Council of State, pose for a photo before their talks, in Tripoli, Libya, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (Fatih Aktas/Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP, Pool)

On Thursday, Greece and Egypt announced a new agreement on exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean.

It was signed as a response to a maritime deal struck between Turkey and the Libyan Government of National Accord in Tripoli.

After the signing of the Greek-Egyptian deal, which has received the full backing of the UAE, Turkey restarted its exploration mission.

At the end of July, naval clashes between Greece and Turkey, both members of Nato, were only narrowly avoided after an 11th-hour intervention by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Monday, Greek Minister of State George Gerapetritis said Athens was closely monitoring Ankara’s reaction.

"When we decided for the first time to exercise decisive diplomacy on issues related to the delimitation of the exclusive economic zones with Italy and, above all, with Egypt, we measured what the reaction would be,” Mr Gerapetritis told Greek television.

epa08587694 Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias (L) and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) hold up signed documents after signing maritime border agreement in Cairo, Egypt, 06 August 2020. Egypt and Greece on 06 August signed an agreement to demarcate the maritime borders between the two countries.  EPA/KHALED ELFIQI

"It is obvious that this would bother them, given that this action practically neutralised the only basis of Turkish diplomacy, which was the non-existent and illegal Turkish-Libyan memorandum.

“The majority of the fleet is ready at the moment to go wherever required."

Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over access to areas of the eastern Mediterranean. Increasingly, the standoff has intersected with nine years of instability in Libya.

In December, the Turkish-backed GNA in Libya confirmed a new maritime border deal with Ankara in the Mediterranean Sea, in exchange for military co-operation.

The UAE, Egypt, France, Cyprus and Greece condemned the agreements, which would give Turkey access to potentially lucrative natural gas reserves in the area.

Differences in policy in the eastern Mediterranean have thrown into sharp relief contradictions in Nato and in the EU.

On Monday, Mr Mitsotakis spoke with European Council President Charles Michel to discuss Greece’s deal with Egypt.

He is scheduled to speak with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday evening.