Gas dispute in the Med: military muscle-flexing

Ankara started a military exercise off the coast of Cyprus on the weekend, while Athens has boosted its military presence in the area. The threatening gestures in the row over natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean are intensifying. Commentators in both Greece and Turkey call for willingness to compromise.

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konstantakopoulos.gr (Greece) (GR) /

All sides must waive their claims

Columnist Dimitris Konstantakopoulos outlines a way out of the conflict in his blog:

“It seems impossible to resolve the Greek-Turkish dispute in the foreseeable future. The potential gains from the alleged and not scientifically confirmed hydrocarbon deposits are doubtful. ... Europe is moving away from fossil fuels and there is no serious chance that the EastMed [Greek-Cypriot-Israeli pipeline project] will be constructed. Another armed competition will only ruin the already crisis-ridden economies of both countries. In these circumstances, a freeze of the conflict, the indefinite suspension of maritime claims by all sides with no loss of prestige and no waiving of sovereignty on anyone's part, seems the only logical way out.”

Yeni Şafak (TR) /

Resist all goading!

The pro-government Yeni Şafak calls for calm:

“Neither Greece, which is being cheered on by the rest of the world, nor Turkey, which is one hundred percent right from the point of view of international law, will emerge as winners from the turmoil that has broken out in the Mediterranean. Only a new generation of arms manufacturers and those who want to block Turkey's path stand to gain. Of course Turkey is aware of this, and the calls for dialogue from its foreign minister to its president reflect this. But as we have seen hundreds, even thousands of times in the past, wars often break out not at the initiative of states but because of a few adventurers. That is why, as the Turkish Republic prepares for an endless war to defend its rights, it should maintain its will for peace and not allow itself to be goaded on.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Athens and Paris also pouring oil on the fire

Erdoğan is not the only provocateur in the Mediterranean, the Tages-Anzeiger points out:

“Turkey's legal position in the dispute with neighbouring Greece and Cyprus is not so bad. Before an arbitration court, Ankara would have a good chance of pushing through some of its claims to the gas in the Mediterranean. And the dispute over the gas reserves in the Mediterranean is not being fuelled by Turkey alone. In the definition of its maritime borders Greece is pursuing a policy of maximalism which is not covered by international law. And Athens is also deploying warships and conducting naval exercises. ... With French President Emmanuel Macron presenting himself as a kind of Napoleon 2.0, sending out warships and declaring that the Turks only understand 'clear language', no one should be surprised if shooting breaks out in the Mediterranean.”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

Greece is the new Israel

The EU should rein in Greece in this crisis, Daily Sabah comments:

“In the current crisis, the EU is acting as a mafia-like council, except for a few leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, by demonstrating solidarity with their impish child, Athens. What is more disappointing is that some European leaders pretend to act as mediators. This mimics the American mediation in Palestinian-Israeli talks, which have brought no constructive outcomes for decades. ... What is more disappointing is that now Greece is turning into the new Israel in the region. Greek leaders are adopting the strategies that are pursued by Israel’s expansionist leaders.”

The Independent (GB) /

Ankara wants the US to intervene

The Independent paints Turkey's strategy as follows:

“Turkey's calculations are probably based on maintaining pressure without triggering an all-out confrontation with European powers, Egypt or Israel - but being forceful enough to pull the US in to mediate a final solution. It is the same strategy that ended up forcing the US to oversee a ceasefire this month in Libya between Eastern troops of Khalifa Haftar, and the Turkish-backed government of Tripoli. ... A US intervention may be required to solve a major conflict that will draw the Mediterranean future for decades.”

To Vima (GR) /

A new agreement is not a pipe dream

Political science professor Panagiotis Ioakeimidis makes the case in To Vima for a new agreement between Athens and Ankara:

“Athens should abandon the 'ideology of sanctions', which won't solve any problems. Our strategic goal should be to 'lock' Turkey into a logic based on international law. This can be done by binding Turkey to the European Union through a special relationship - a new Helsinki agreement [which made Turkey a candidate for EU membership]. Greece has a huge comparative advantage: its membership of the EU. This should be used creatively, inventively and innovatively - as in 1999, albeit in different circumstances. Back then I took part in the preparation of the first Helsinki agreement. And I remember the reaction of many was that 'these things are impossible! They are possible if there is the will, imagination and a strategy.”

Lifo (GR) /

Brussels avoiding an inconvenient truth

The EU is turning a blind eye to Erdoğan's imperialist plans, writes columnist Vasiliki Siouti in Lifo:

“The Erdoğan regime has long since spoken openly about the 'Blue Homeland' and published maps of half the Aegean Sea under Turkish rule, including the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes, Kos and many others. ... But the EU dismisses this clearly expansionist threat and illegal claim as just another 'whim' of idiosyncratic Erdoğan to which we should not pay much attention. As if he had not already put it into practice by demanding that Greece concede sovereign rights, and used the threat of war to do so. Or as if he were not already militarily engaged in Syria and Libya.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

Crisis jeopardising Nato's unity

Last week the EU threatened Turkey with sanctions, after which Nato Secretary General Stoltenberg called for de-escalation on both sides. The interests of the EU and Nato are diverging in the Mediterranean crisis, Hürriyet Daily News observes:

“How come the EU’s collective strength will defend its common interests without harming the collective security architecture of the NATO, an alliance that provides the security of the continent for the past 70 years? The crisis in the Mediterranean is a risk to the unity of NATO. It should act in a way to defuse the tension but at the same time urge all the allied countries to refrain from provocations. As the EU vows to show its collecting strength in the defense of its common interests, NATO should also show it is collecting strength in the defense of its common interests.”

Cyprus Mail (CY) /

Erdoğan should address his country's problems

The Cyprus Mail publishes a commentary piece about the situation in Turkey by columnist Manish Rai:

“Some experts believe that the country is on the verge of a potentially devastating recession. This is due in part to the exorbitant cost of the expansionist policies of the president, at a time when growth is severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. ... Opposition to Erdogan is growing. ... The aspiring caliph from Istanbul should focus more on troubles at home otherwise one day he may meet the same fate as Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, or Ben Ali.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

Better to keep things as they are

Hürriyet Daily News makes the case for a moratorium to resolve the conflict:

“While Turkey and Greece work on a diplomatic solution, a moratorium would give Turkey the chance to start normalizing its ties with Egypt, which sent a positive signal by keeping [the Greek island] Kastellorizo out of the deal it signed with Greece. A truce in Libya, where Egypt and Turkey are supporting opposite sides, could further facilitate the normalization. And it goes without saying that ending the tension in the eastern Mediterranean would also help end Turkey's diplomatic isolation in the Middle East.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

Appeals alone won't be enough

Now the only option is sanctions against Ankara, writes the Frankfurter Rundschau:

“There is no sign of anyone who could de-escalate the tensions between the Turks and the Greeks. In recent decades this role has fallen to the Americans, but US President Trump is no mediator. So Europe is on its own. However, so far Turkey seems unimpressed by the military presence of the French and the diplomatic efforts of the Germans. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was forced to conclude in Athens and Ankara that appeals alone will not defuse this conflict. The EU must no longer shy away from the debate about sanctions against Ankara.”

Kathimerini (GR) /

Berlin must put out the fire

Ian Lesser, Vice President of the German Marshall Fund, wonders in Kathimerini who could calm the situation in the event of a military conflict:

“In the event that brinkmanship in the Eastern Mediterranean spills over into military confrontation, Ankara will likely face a strong and unbalanced reaction. ... Who will take action to reduce the likelihood of this scenario? Washington and Brussels lack leverage with Ankara. Paris has opted to reinforce its naval presence in the region with an eye to solidarity and deterrence. If Athens and Ankara cannot defuse the situation directly, it may be left to Berlin or others to put out the fire this time.”

Efimerida ton Syntakton (GR) /

High time to set the right priorities!

Efimerida ton Syntakton is disappointed to see Brussels offering so little support against Turkey:

“This united Europe considers it more important to overthrow Lukashenka than to protect two EU member states - Greece and Cyprus - which are under constant threat from Turkey. It's clear that this Europe is neither united nor has uniform principles, values or interests. Can we expect this Union to defend our national interests? No, as long as the will of the powerful prevails rather than principles and values. However, as members of the Union we have a duty to demand that its institutions protect our interests within the framework of international law.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Berlin is leaving Paris in the lurch

Together with France Germany should take a clear stance against Turkey, philosopher Jean-Loup Bonnamy argues in Le Figaro:

“If we really had a privileged partnership with Germany, Chancellor Merkel should have given us her full support against Turkey's aggressiveness and Islamist expansionism. ... The European Union must take tough measures against Turkey: full support for Greece (which should be self-evident since Greece is a member of the EU), aid for the French presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, removal of the PKK from the list of terrorist organisations, and economic sanctions to ensure that the Turkish lira hits rock bottom. ... If Germany opposes such measures, France must draw the consequences and put the final nail in the coffin of the Franco-German tandem.”

Evrensel (TR) /

Germany benefits from the conflict

Evrensel sees good reasons why Germany is less aggressive than France towards Turkey:

“Within the EU, Germany has the most comprehensive economic, military and political relations with Turkey, which is why Germany benefits from defusing tensions with Ankara and resolving problems through dialogue. A balanced relationship with both countries [Greece and Turkey] is advantageous for the German economy. After all, these two countries, which are currently on a collision course, are among the German arms industry's best customers. So Germany also benefits if the relations between them deteriorate because this drives up arms sales.”

Milliyet (TR) /

It isn't only about energy

Milliyet sees the confrontations over the gas fields in a broader context:

“The rich energy sources of the region are of great value to Turkey. ... They could cover Turkey's energy requirements for many years to come and improve its economic development. An important reason for the clashes with the Greek Cypriots and Athens is Turkey's determination to make use of these opportunities. But another key reason is the strategic dimension. With its vision of the 'Blue Homeland', the Turkish government is striving to become a regional and even a global power. The goal is to establish Ankara as an influential player in a broad area stretching from the Middle East to North Africa.”

El País (ES) /

Writing off Turkey is a bad idea

Erdoğan's foreign policy is modelled on Putin's, which is why the EU should urgently put more energy into improving its relations with Ankara, explains Mark Leonard, director of the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations, in El País:

“Turkey is not yet a new Russia, but it could become one if the situation is mishandled. For now, most Europeans still regard Turkey as a complicated partner rather than as a 'systemic rival'. But Europeans should heed of the hard-won lessons of dealing with Russia over the past 15 years. The EU-Turkey relationship needs a new, mutually agreed set of principles, as well as clear red lines to prevent further destabilization in the region.”

Die Presse (AT) /

The problem is Erdoğan

The EU must not let Turkey get away with its aggressive behaviour, Die Presse warns:

“The open provocations and sabre-rattling against Greece by means of Erdoğan's so-called research vessel show that neither Trump, nor China, nor Putin's Russia are currently the greatest threat to Europe. It is Erdoğan's Turkey that is blatantly challenging Europe in the Aegean, Syria and Libya. His message: you depend on us because of the refugees and you may soon also be militarily inferior to us. We are the new hegemonic superpower in the Mediterranean. ... If Europe lets itself be steamrolled like this in Greece, the EU and the continent may as well just throw in the towel. In other words: is it really a good idea to impose tough economic sanctions against Russia while making payments to Turkey?”

HuffPost Italia (IT) /

Athens looking for trouble

The Greek government is also to blame for the escalation, HuffPost Italia contends:

“Thanks to the mediation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a telephone call from US President Trump, the Greek and Turkish foreign ministers had agreed to issue a joint statement and start bilateral negotiations. However, the day before the joint declaration Athens announced it was signing an agreement with Egypt defining their respective maritime borders. The agreement establishes their own exclusive economic zones, which overlap with those established by the Turkish-Libyan agreement. This caused great annoyance in Ankara and led to the collapse of all trust in the Greek negotiators.”

T24 (TR) /

Fertiliser for nationalism

The complex situation in the Mediterranean must not be allowed to escalate into an open war, warns the T24:

“Between Turkey and Greece it is difficult, not to say impossible, to apply the concept of the continental shelf as it is defined in international law. What's more, the expression 'exclusive economic zone', which appears frequently in the recent agreement between Libya and Turkey, is a term from international maritime law that is difficult to implement in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. All of these issues are creating uncertainty and causing difficult diplomatic discussions, unilateral action, tensions and empty threats between Greece and Turkey. And they act like fertiliser for nationalism in both countries. And both countries are using these debates to cover up internal problems and distract the people.”

Phileleftheros (CY) /

An attack on the EU

Phileleftheros warns against expecting too much from the meeting of foreign ministers:

“Greece and Cyprus, but also our (few) other partners will exert pressure to have sanctions against Turkey formulated. This must be seen against the background that the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, has undertaken to present a draft decision. ... Is the goal of imposing effective sanctions achievable? It won't be easy, because in practice there is no European solidarity. The threats against Greece and Cyprus, the attacks against these two member states, are attacks on the EU. They [the politicians in Brussels] must realise this.”

Dimokratia (GR) /

Ankara can count on Merkel's support

Berlin's silence can only be interpreted as support for Turkey, Dimokratia writes:

“Analysts note that it's no coincidence that the escalation on the part of Turkey began when Germany took the helm in the European Union. Germany under Chancellor Merkel constantly offers Turkey a protective shield with its decisions and public discourse. It is typical that the spokesman of the German Foreign Office, Christopher Burger, refused to describe the Greek-Egyptian agreement as legal, yet when asked whether the Turkish vessel's actions were in accordance with international law he stressed that he did not have the necessary information to properly evaluate the problem.”