Last June I asked the question: "What will Greece do if Turkey sends a vessel for seismic surveys outside Greek territorial waters, but inside the Greek continental shelf? ... Will it be limited to diplomatic reactions, or will it actually prevent the breach?" of Greek sovereign rights?" I had then added that "in fact this is the chronicle of a pre-announced crisis".
A few months later the crisis is a fact. The answer to the question of what the Greek reaction would be has been given in practice. The Mitsotakis government chose to limit its reactions exclusively to the diplomatic level.
The early departure and deployment of the Greek fleet may have been a successful exercise, but in no way prevented or hindered Turkish surveys. This is because it was not instructed to do so. The same is happening these days in the sea of Kastellorizo. The presence of Greek naval units has a passive character, not an active one.
We note that for the same issue - for Turkish reserch into a potential Greek continental shelf - repeated crises had been caused. In 1987, in fact, the two countries had reached the brink of war. However, the Turkish research vessel of that time was then forced to leave. These events from the past may help us to judge the present. Other times, other red lines!
What happened in the Cypriot EEZ
In fact, Erdogan applies with Greece the same tactics he has applied in the Cypriot EEZ. And there he started with illegal surveys initially on an unlicensed offshore plot and then they spread everywhere. The next step was a pirate drilling on an unlicensed offshore plot. After it was again found that there were no practical international reactions, the Turkish drilling rig also drilled licensed offshore plots.
In the case of Greece, the Oruc Reis in early 2020 had laid sounding cables far south of Kastellorizo, on the border with the Egyptian EEZ to measure reactions. That was when the government declared that the ship had been moved by the weather! That statement had sent the message that Athens was not prepared to react, in practice. So, last August, Oruc Reis resumed work south of Kastellorizo, this time systematically, but again at a considerable distance.
As I mentioned above, the great mobilization of the Greek fleet was more an exercise than an operation aimed at preventing or obstructing Turkish investigations. That is exactly why Erdogan's next step was to send the Oruc Reis outside the territorial waters of Kastellorizo, without the Greek naval units blocking it again.
An unnecessary red line
The Mitsotaki government had, after all, clarified its position, stating that the red line for Greece is the violation of territorial waters! An unnecessary red line, since the Turks never questioned the territorial waters of the six miles of Kastellorizo. In other words, the Greek government has drawn a red line on an issue that has not been raised by the Turkish side! Apparently it did so for communication reasons, to "sell" it to the Greek public "trinkets to the natives". The "red line" rhetoric points to a decisive stance, even if it is fake.
At this point it is useful to clarify that the stake at this time is the defense of sovereign rights in the potential Greek EEZ and not the defense of Greek sovereignty in Kastellorizo, which - at least not yet - has not been challenged verbally by Ankara. That is why it is misleading to ask whether the Oruc Reis entered the 12-mile zone.
Unfortunately, Greece has not extended its territorial waters to 12 miles. Until it does, if it ever does, the territorial waters are six miles and beyond that it is a continental shelf-EEZ, regardless of whether it is violated by the Oruc Reis seven, 27 or 57 miles south of Kastellorizo. If Greece had 12 miles of territorial waters and Oruc Reis surveyed 13 miles from Kastellorizo, wouldn't we have a problem? Obviously we would, because Greek sovereign rights are being violated.
The next step is drilling outside Kastellorizo
The fact that the EEZ has not been demarcated in that maritime area prohibits countries claiming it from conducting research and much more drilling. It should be noted that Greece claims it based on the principle of the middle line, provided by the Law of the Sea, while Turkey with its claim outside international law that the islands do not have a continental shelf-EEZ.
Turkey, however, is conducting research and as long as it sees that no one is stopping it, it will take the next step. We do not need to guess. First, because its tactics are well known. Secondly, because it announces these in advance. Therefore, it is safe to predict that the next step of the Turks will be to send the Yavuz drilling rig south of Kastellorizo.
In the first phase they will send it far enough from the island and in the second they will send it out of the territorial waters to make a political drilling, to create a strong execution and to register a mortgage against Greek sovereign rights. And if even then Greece does not prevent the drilling, in the third phase we will see the story repeated this time outside the Greek territorial waters in the arc Rhodes-Karpathos-Kasos-Crete in a now limited (with the Greek-Egyptian agreement) Greek EEZ. And as has happened so far, the Oruc Reis will precede and then the Turkish drilling rig will follow.
Realistic solutions exist
According to the red line of the Mitsotakis government, as long as the Turks do not violate the 12-mile territorial waters, Greek reactions will be limited to the diplomatic level. We have, after all, sent the message to Erdogan that he can proceed with his planning, without being afraid of unwanted Greek reactions and side effects.
The choice of the Mitsotakis government to avoid military-type reactions at this stage is not necessarily wrong. Provided that he is aware of where things are going and that he will use the time to quickly build the conditions so that he does not let things develop as Ankara has planned.
There are realistic solutions so that we do not get to the point of seeing a drilling rig outside Kastellorizo and Ierapetra. As long as the Mitsotakis government gets rid of its ideologies and acquires the political will to launch immediately and rapidly the movements that will build a wall against Turkey's "Blue Homeland". More on this, however, in a future article.
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