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Cyprus, Egypt, Greece join efforts to stop Turkish actions in East Med

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Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, Egypt President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met in Nicosia, Cyprus, on October 21 where they discussed a broad range of issues and reiterated the importance of enhancing the three countries’ efforts in promoting peace, stability, security and prosperity in the East Mediterranean. They issued a joint statement condemning the illegal actions of Turkey in Varosha, the illegal drilling and the violations in the Aegean.

Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe on October 22 the eight trilateral meeting between Egypt, Greece and Cyprus is a declaration against Turkey’s continuous aggressiveness in the region. “And it is part of a wider strategy on behalf of Greece which includes a regional angle in the sense that regional states can understand and realise how threatening is for regional stability the way Turkey is behaving in recent years,” Filis said, noting that the European Union, NATO and the United States for different reasons have not been able to curb Turkey’s assertiveness.

“This does not mean that Egypt and Israel are going to fight with Turkey on our behalf. We know that if there is a military confrontation, we will be alone. Of course, Egypt and Israel can operationally indirectly support Greece but nothing more than that. It’s more a political reaction to what Turkey has been doing in the region for the last 8 years,” Filis said, adding that there are also some joint projects underway between Cyprus, Egypt and Greece.

Charles Ellinas, a senior fellow at the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council, told New Europe on October 22 that the trilateral meeting was useful in strengthening cooperation between the three countries and affirming support to Greece and Cyprus in their struggles with Turkey. “But it will have no effect on Turkey. I am sure any longer that anything will have an effect on (Turkish Prime Minister) Mr (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan. He appears to be creating and maintaining conflict for domestic reasons. To deflect public opinion for the increasing problems with the economy and COVID-19. Europe is too disunited at present to take any meaningful action in response to this aggression,” Ellinas said.

The Turkish navy reportedly said in a NAVTEX maritime announcement the Oruc Reis research vessel, which was scheduled to end its work on October 22, will now remain at sea until October 27. Two other vessels, the Ataman and Cengiz Han, along with Oruc Reis, will also work in an area southeast of the Greek island of Rhodes, according to the announcement.

Filis said the NAVTEX announcement is to show that it is within Turkey’s rights in the energy-rich Mediterranean region and the small island of Kastellorizo does not have territorial rights. “It is peculiar for any state or company to extend its seismic surveys for 5 days because you cannot properly scan an area within five-days limit and, of course, Turkey is doing two seismic surveys in the wider region,” Filis said. “But, at the same time, through Oruc Reis, Turkey is showing its flag and its showcasing to the rest of regional states, especially Greece, that it is present and that nobody should question its presence and its interests even in disputed waters because here there is another peculiarity – because we are talking about contested waters and despite that Turkey is conducting seismic surveys which is illegal,” Filis said.

The international relations expert ruled out a military confrontation between Greece and Turkey in the foreseeable future for two reasons. “First, because Greece does not want for now at least to enter into such military confrontation and certainly Greece does not want to militarise the crisis with Turkey which Turkey, of course, has done but still Turkey would like Greece to be the first that will fire the first shot so that Turkey will kind of legitimise the situation. Second, I think that even nowadays Turkish leadership has realised that it will not be beneficial for Turkey to enter into a military confrontation with Greece. They can’t tell the end result of this conflict because Greece is not Syrian Kurds, Greece is not Libya and Greece is an organised military of NATO and a capable one and second, Erdogan knows that there are some limits in the way and acts and probably the limit that has been set by the West is military confrontation,” Filis said.

He argued that Erdogan wants to push Greece and through threats and coercive diplomacy to change the rules of the game. “He doesn’t like exploratory talks only for Exclusive Economic Zone, continental shelf. He wants to expand this agenda. He doesn’t like that it’s a pre-condition for his relations with the European Union the improvement of relations with Greece and Cyprus or at least the respect of Greece’s and Cyprus’ sovereign rights and, at the same time, he wants to blackmail Greece and the EU through this coercive diplomacy in order to change the framework of negotiations or of dialogue and the rules of the game,” Filis argued.

At the same time, Filis said, the Turkish leader wants to create some fait accompli in an area which is close to Kastellorizo in order to impose Turkey’s position that Kastellorizo as well as other Greek islands, if not all Greek islands, has no effect on Exclusive Economic Zone or continental shelf and has territorial waters of 6 nautical miles. “That is why Oruc Reis is conducting surveys or considered to be conducting surveys in an area between 6 and 12 nautical miles,” Filis said, adding, “First, to force Greece to abstain from exercising its universal rights on UNCLOS (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea) to expand its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles and second to prove in practice that Greek islands do not process any Exclusive Economic Zone of continental shelf”.

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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