A Turkish research vessel has begun surveying for energy resources in contested areas of the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey’s energy minister said Wednesday, amid escalating tensions between Greece and Turkey over offshore oil and gas exploration rights.
The Oruc Reis was conducting seismic research in an area Greece says is over its continental shelf, and Athens has demanded the ship’s withdrawal. Both countries have warships shadowing the vessel.
“Our country never threatens but will not suffer blackmail either. This is why it does not succumb to threats or tolerate provocative acts,” Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said in a televised statement Wednesday evening.
Mitsotakis said Greece had deployed naval vessels to the area and placed its military on alert in response to the Turkish deployment of its own fleet.
“Let it be known: The risk of an accident lurks when so many military assets are gathered in such a contained area,” Mitsotakis said. “In such a case, responsibility lies upon the one who gives rise to these circumstances.”
The Prime Minister said Greece “(does) not fear even the toughest dialogue,” as it had faith in its positions, but that “dialogue becomes irrelevant in a climate of tension and provocation.”
“We will never be the ones to escalate the situation. Yet, self-restraint is only one aspect of our power,” Mitsotakis said. “No provocation will … go unanswered. We have demonstrated that we will respond, if necessary. And we will do so again if it is required.”
Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister, Fatih Donmez, said on Twitter that the Oruc Reis was “taking the x-ray of our seas.” He said the vessel had also lowered 1,750 kilometers of seismic cables into the Mediterranean.
Greece has called on Turkey to withdraw vessels from the area. Turkey said Tuesday it would not back away from its search activities, adding that it plans to issue new exploration licenses for the area despite the escalating dispute with Greece over drilling rights.
Greek Foreign Minister, Nikos Dendias, is scheduled to see US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday in Vienna, with the meeting to focus on Turkey’s actions and developments in the eastern Mediterranean, and was to travel to Israel for talks on Thursday.
European Union foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, tweeted on Wednesday that he was calling an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council meeting for Friday, to discuss the situation in the eastern Mediterranean, the presidential elections in Belarus, and developments in Lebanon after a massive deadly explosion there.
Greece had called for the emergency meeting over what it termed the “growing Turkish provocation and delinquency,” and Dendias will be participating via video link from Vienna.
French President Emmanuel Macron also confirmed today that he would be “temporarily strengthening France’s military presence” in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey announced that the Oruc Reis would be operating in the Mediterranean Sea between Cyprus and Greece until August 23. The vessel arrived in the area Monday morning, escorted by Turkish warships. Greek warships were sent to the area.
Relations between Greece and Turkey have traditionally been terse, and the neighbors have long been at loggerheads over a slew of disputes.
At the heart of this most recent issue is how a country’s continental shelf is calculated and whether islands should be included in the calculation. Turkey argues they should not, a position that Greece says violates international law.