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Territorial disputes escalate ahead of new round of talks between Ankara and Athens

Greek officials arrive in Turkey after several confrontations in the Eastern Mediterranean
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PHOTO/Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores de Turquía via REUTERS  -   Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias at a press conference in Ankara, Turkey, 15 April 2021.

Greece and Turkey will hold their 63rd round of talks in Ankara amid fierce territorial disputes in the Mediterranean. In addition, tension around the Cyprus conflict has been heightened following a meeting between Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.

During their meeting, the two ministers lashed out at Turkey, condemning its plans to drill in the eastern Mediterranean. "Greece does not threaten anyone, but neither will it be intimidated by illegal actions," said Dendias. He assured that the country "will protect its sovereignty and sovereign rights in accordance with international law and the law of the sea".

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PHOTO/AP - Greece's Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias

Fuat Oktay, the Turkish vice-president, recently announced that Ankara would begin drilling in the region, behaviour that Dendias called "unacceptable". The Greek minister also took the opportunity to warn of possible sanctions from the European Union, as reported by the Greek daily eKathimerini. Turkey's expansion in the Mediterranean has been the target of European sanctions. In November last year, Brussels decided to sanction individuals or companies involved in "unauthorised drilling activities".

Cypriot diplomatic chief Christodoulides also criticised his northern neighbour's actions during the meeting with his Greek counterpart. Both ministers rejected Erdogan's latest plans for Varosha, a district of the island that has been closed since the 1974 war. Last July, the Turkish government decided to reopen it, ignoring international organisations such as the European Union and the United Nations. "Turkey's foreign policy is still based on a revisionist, neo-Ottoman approach, mainly based on the country's military power," Christodoulides said. 

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AFP/ADEM ALTAN - Turkey's Vice-President Fuat Oktay

Regarding the imminent summit between Greek and Turkish authorities, Dendias accused Ankara of "undermining the contacts even before they start through provocations and inflammatory statements". Dendias' words, coupled with Ankara's latest actions, suggest that relations between Turkey and Greece will remain on their course despite rounds of talks seeking an understanding. "There is no political will at the moment to move forward," Ilke Toygur, European affairs analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute and member of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told Al-Monitor.

Toygur explains that Greece has taken advantage of the tensions in the Mediterranean to establish itself as a "reliable ally" in the region for the US and the EU. He cites the 3-billion-euro defence deal signed between Paris and Athens as an example. Turkey, for its part, does not seek to engage with any country. "Both sides continue to talk and express their positions without committing to anything," adds Toygur.

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PHOTO/ Turkish Defence Ministry via REUTERS - The Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis is escorted by Turkish Navy ships as it sets sail in the Mediterranean Sea off Antalya, Turkey August 10, 2020.
Akar: "our neighbour Greece, unfortunately, persists in harassment"

One of the most recent incidents provoked by the Turkish authorities was the harassment of a Maltese-flagged, Greek-registered Nautical Geo research vessel sailing southwest of Cyprus. Also, as the Hellenic Ministry of Defence denounced, Turkish fighter planes, some of them armed, entered Greek airspace.

According to Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, the research vessel attempted to trespass Turkish sovereignty. "Despite all our warnings, our neighbour Greece, unfortunately, persists in harassment," Akar said during a meeting with his Azeri and Georgian counterparts. Nevertheless, the Turkish minister assured that he "believes in dialogue". "We believe that problems can be solved through peaceful methods, good relations and neighbourliness and dialogue in accordance with international law," he said. 

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AFP/AFP - Map of the Western Mediterranean with maritime border claims of Turkey, Greece and Cyprus

Ankara, ahead of the Greek-Turkish summit, has also called on Athensto suspend militarisation in the Aegean islands. "Greece's sovereignty over the islands depended and still depends on demilitarisation," said Feridun Sinirlioglu, Turkey's representative to the UN. Sinirlioglu sent a letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in late September accusing Greece of violating international treaties on the demilitarisation of the area. He also stressed that Greek sovereignty over the islands "has no legal basis"

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PHOTO/Greek Defence Ministry via Reuters - Greek and French ships sail in formation during a joint military exercise in the Mediterranean Sea.

Meanwhile, shortly after France and Athens signed the military pact, Turkey criticised the agreement as "a bilateral military alliance against Turkey". The foreign ministry claimed that this union will harm NATO, while warning that these Greek actions "will strengthen Ankara's determination to protect its rights in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas".