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Turkey-Greece Tensions in the Mediterranean (24 August 2020)

Turkey-Greece Tensions in the Mediterranean (24 August 2020)

Why in News:

Turkey's big push into the Mediterranean featuring gas drilling, tough rhetoric and warships rooted in a grand vision of a "Blue Homeland" is causing concern from EU neighbors.

Context:

Fearful of being denied a fair share of the region's bountiful natural gas wealth, Turkey sent a research vessel and a small navy armada into seas Greece claims as its own, dramatically escalating tensions on August 10.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday announced that Turkey had made its biggest-ever discovery of natural gas in the Black Sea. France, already at odds with Turkey over Libya and parts of the Middle East, sent in its own ships into the region to help out Greece, prompting Erdogan to warn he would retaliate against any attack.

Critics say the "Blue Homeland" doctrine is the latest example of Turkey resorting to disruption to coerce others into achieving what it wants. But Turkish officials and former admirals responsible for the policy argue Greece's demands based on a scattering of tiny islands are unfair since Turkey has larger mainland territory in the eastern part of the sea.

Background:

NATO allies and neighbors Greece and Turkey have traditionally had bitter relations and have been in conflict for decades over several issues. Both the countries have engaged in war three times since the mid-1970s, including once over drilling exploration rights. Recent discoveries of natural gas and drilling plans across the east Mediterranean have led to renewed tension.

Summary of the Debate

Reasons of this conflict:

  • The Libyan context is the important reason where all the regional countries are involved and Turkey is the most recent entrant militarily on behalf of the government of Sarraj in the western part of Libya and that is why this whole thing began, because when he signed this maritime agreement with Libya it provoked an immediate action because it bypassed all the major islands include and he started going around Crete, which is the biggest island of Greece and started drilling around there.
  • The plan of European Union (EU) and its allies to build a gas pipeline from the Mediterranean to Europe’s mainland to transport the gas has excluded Turkey, this has infuriated Turkey.
  • There is division in the region, the Greece, Cyprus and France are on the one side in this whole thing, the Turkey is supported by Italy, Malta and Spain; they are all three Mediterranean countries in the region.
  • The EastMed Gas Forum was formed by Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and Palestine in 2019 and Turkey was again not included.
  • Egyptian parliament had allowed the deployment of the Egyptian forces that have been stopped by the regional countries as well as Americans; this could have been a war between Turks and Egyptians on Libyan soil.
  • The disagreement of Turkey and Greece over overlapping claims to hydrocarbon resources in the region.
  • On the issue of the EU, there is a business interest, which is also in some way driving the political equations. 

                     

Way forward:

  • All sides have to look at these several maps, which were supposed to be bad in a law, but the problem with Turkey has been that, it is not even a member of UNCLOS; it should have been a member of this so that it could file a claim. So, the only thing is that they need is come down to the negotiating table.
  • In the large scale the parties around will have to step back and deescalate.
  • EU and NATO at some point will have to enhance the engagement with the issue.
  • India is not a player in the eastern Mediterranean at all, India is not uncomfortable with the fact that Erdogan’s power or his situation is worsening.

Important points made by the Guests

Anil Trigunayat, Former Ambassador 

  • Greece and Turkey have historical enmity and in the 20th century, they almost had several times wars, the last one was in 1996 over one of the islands, and they almost went to the war. Now under Erdogan essentially, there is a greater claim and involvement in geopolitics and geo-economics of the region.
  • The maritime boundaries within the Mediterranean and Europe were drawn under the several map, which was giving all the small islands, the same kind of continental shelf for that economic zone, which the Turkey felt that it was being sidelined in that and it was being put at a disadvantage.
  • Five years ago, when the first discovery of the natural gas found, it was the biggest discovery in the region, at that time that was Egyptian maritime territory, but then Turkey was supposed to be part of that venture and eventually the Israel, the Egyptian, the Cyprus and the Greece tried to sideline Turkey.
  • Therefore, Turkey felt that it is being taken away from the geo-economic advantage that it wanted and it considered itself a big part.
  • Turkey has already given up on probably on being a member of the European Member and therefore, it has always felt slighted since 2000, they tried very hard but there were several missteps by the European Union and they have not been able to integrate it.
  • There is a contradiction, because it happens to be a NATO country at the same time and the USA has this time sided with Europeans, because their own geo-economic interests are involved.
  • This is virtually cyber rattling that is taking place between the Greece and Turkey and it was further compounded when Turkey intervened in Libya and signed the maritime agreement in November 2019, virtually dividing the line and giving no space to the Greek and Cyprus.
  • So, it was virtually between the two countries that divided the whole economic zone between themselves and Libya is in no position to exploit anything.
  • Likewise, Greek also signed a similar kind of an agreement with Egypt in August 2020, so that has brought it to this situation.
  • So, it has to be looked at from historical perspective, geopolitical perspective and the current geo-economics perspective.

Professor Ummu Salma Bava, Centre for European Studies, JNU

  • This is the periods of conflict and reconciliation has been the story between the Turkey and Greece at least. Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire and it subsequently became independent.
  • So, there are a lot of bitter historical memories and in the current power shift of the eastern Mediterranean there is a claim for a new kind of leadership.
  • USA is getting out of its International commitments and its role as a leader especially in that part of the world. The absence of USA even in terms of strong statements and preoccupation of Washington with the election at this point also has added to Erdogan an appeal for strong Turkey.
  • The constant wars which has happened is also about when Hagia Sophia was converted from the Museum again back into a religious site where the first Friday prayers were held in Greece all the church bells rang out. It is still a very important emotive religious issue for Greece.
  • Turkey is also extremely important to the entire issue because of of the refugees and the migrants and the deal with the EU.   

  Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Editor, Hindustan Times 

  • Erdogan is asserting Turkey as a dominant player in the eastern Mediterranean. He did so on a relatively strong platform, Turkey was a booming economy, he saw the Arab spring as a brilliant opportunity to essentially create or form alliances with the Muslim brotherhood and set up a set of governments ranging from Egypt strip to the Gaza strip and eventually to Syria that would be more or less aligned with him.
  • The first round of attempt of asserting Turkish power, which was based partly on a recognition that Turkey was by far the most powerful country in that region and that is all fall apart, the Morsi government that he had helped and supported in Egypt collapsed, the Syrian civil war went in the wrong direction because Bashar Hafez al-Assad moved has been able to largely re-establish himself in Syria.
  • Erdogan has then shifted the policy elsewhere. At one point he fought with Russian, he shot down the Russian aircraft over the Syrian issue then he formed an understanding with the Russians over Syria, but is now fighting with the Russians in Libya, where they have a proxy war within the civil war.
  • He had a strong relationship with Israel.
  • Greece has been able to form relationships with Israel and now France intervening on their behalf, partly because Erdogan’s own earlier missteps and his constant shifting back and forth means other players do not trust him. So, he may be wooing Israel, but Israel fundamentally believes Turkey is now their enemy.
  • Turkey is also wooing China, but China has an economic role but it’s very clear it’s not interested in the military role in that region.

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