ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey and Greece were set to hold separate naval drills in the same region of the eastern Mediterranean on Tuesday, escalating tensions over overlapping resource claims ahead of talks in Athens and Ankara by Germany’s top diplomat.
The NATO members have traded rhetorical barbs over offshore hydrocarbon rights, drawing the European Union and nearby countries into the dispute that earlier this month involved a light collision between Turkish and Greek frigates.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas aims to cool temperatures in separate talks with his Greek and Turkish counterparts on Tuesday. A ministry spokesman said Germany regrets Turkey’s decision to extend its exploration work at sea.
Tensions rose after Turkey deployed its Oruc Reis survey vessel to waters Ankara claims in a move Athens called illegal.
On Sunday, Turkey issued an advisory known as a Navtex to extend the vessel’s operations until Aug. 27. Greece then issued its own advisory that it will hold military exercises in the same area, off the Greek island of Crete.
In response, Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday accused Greece of “sowing chaos” and warned it would be left alone against Turkey’s navy. Another Navtex said Turkey will hold military exercises in the same area off Crete.
A senior Turkish defense ministry official told Reuters the Greek Navtex was issued without coordination and threatened to “place at risk all sailors in the area”.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas has said Greece is “responding calmly and with readiness both on a diplomatic and on an operational level”, and will defend its sovereign rights.
Germany intervened in the row last month, prompting Ankara to pause operations for talks with Athens. After Greece and Egypt agreed a maritime demarcation deal, however, Turkey resumed.
Greece has repeatedly called for EU sanctions on Turkey for its activities, while Turkey has urged the EU to stop “pampering” Greece and push dialogue.
On Tuesday, the Oruc Reis was located between Cyprus and Crete, according to Eikon data.
Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Orhan Coskun; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Ed Osmond
Image: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets with his German counterpart Heiko Maas in Ankara, Turkey, August 25, 2020. Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS