Nefeli Lygerou: Turkish pressure from the seas to the exploratory contacts table

Turkish pressure from the seas to the exploratory contacts table, Nefeli Lygerou
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The new year brings with it the beginning of Greek-Turkish exploratory contacts. Diplomatic sources suggest that by the end of January, at the latest in February, the two sides are expected to sit at the table, while Charles Michel and Josep Borrell are preparing to convene a multilateral conference on the Eastern Mediterranean, which will function as a second level. political dialogue between Athens and Ankara.

All this, without Turkey taking the slightest step back. Even the withdrawal of Oruc Reis research vessel to the port of Antalya was officially done for maintenance reasons and not because it was admitted that it was conducting illegal research. Indicative of the Turkish stance is that the Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar once again raised the issue of demilitarization of 16 islands in the Eastern Aegean. “Greece violates international regulations and militarizes 16 islands, which should be under a demilitarization regime. What logic is that?” he said.

This is just one of the issues raised by Turkey, which insists on full-fledged negotiations in the context of its exploratory and other unilateral claims. Apart from the delimitation of the continental shelf-EEZ (it does not recognize that the islands are entitled to such), it raises the issue of non-expansion of Greek territorial waters, division of the Aegean regarding the F.I.R. and the zone of responsibility for search and rescue, as well as territorial claims with the claim that according to it the former “gray zones” are Turkish islands under Greek occupation!

All this is known to the European partners who are pushing Athens not only to discuss but also to make concessions to appease Ankara. The Mitsotakis government has been receiving pressure from Brussels, Berlin, and Washington to sit down to talks, although Hulusi Akar’s new statements confirm that Turkey has no good intentions. This is an unacknowledged admission of all-round trading.

Cheers to Germany

These developments will make it difficult in 2021, even if this time, at least over the next period, the battle will be diplomatic and not in the context of the “cold war”, as in 2020. If anything is holding Tayyip Erdogan back, it is not the EU and the threat of European sanctions. The December Summit sent the message to Ankara that from this side it will not be squeezed, let Germany be well and not just.

What worries Ankara is the attitude of the Biden government and, more broadly, the negative climate that prevails for the Erdogan regime in Washington. Following the first package of US sanctions imposed under pressure from Mike Pompeo, bypassing President Trump’s veto on the defense bill will bring the second wave of tougher sanctions on Turkey.

Under these circumstances, diplomatic sources estimate that the next period will not have military tensions on the Greek-Turkish front. Turkish pressure is already shifting to the diplomatic level, and more specifically in the context of exploratory contacts and the Multilateral Conference on the Eastern Mediterranean, if eventually convened.

The EU’s continued tolerance of Turkey fuels Erdogan’s intransigence. His attitude towards the European Court of Human Rights is indicative. He criticized it for its decision, calling for the immediate release of Kurdish political leader Selahattin Demirtas.

An Ankara court also rejected an appeal filed by the Kurdish MP’s defense lawyers, demanding his immediate release. An Ankara court has decided to continue Demirtas’ detention. The decision is indicative of how dependent the Turkish Justice is on the regime. The court cited as an excuse that there is no official translation into Turkish of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.

Turkey, however, is trying to pursue a policy of balance between the West and Russia, adopting the behavior of a multi-faceted bride. However, this policy may have worked so far, but the facts show that it has exhausted its scope, as a result of which it is turning into a boomerang. This is at least shown by the US sanctions and the way in which the State Department refuted Cavusoglu’s statement about the Russian S-400s. Thus, the attempt of the Turkish diplomacy to normalize its relations with Washington, without backing down and maintaining the special strategic relationship with Moscow, seems to be falling into the void.

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