Amid rising tensions between Ankara and Athens, Greece plans to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles to the south and west of the island of Crete in March, local media reported on Sunday.
The government made the decision based on favorable international and regional developments and to gain an upper hand over the opposition by delivering on a long-held demand ahead of parliamentary elections slated for summer 2023, online news outlet In.Gr reported, citing sources from the office of the presidency.
According to the news outlet, a unilateral decision by Egypt on Dec.11 to demarcate its western maritime borders with neighboring Libya and exploration work by U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil off Crete also prompted the move.
Greek authorities did not expect a particularly harsh reaction from neighboring Türkiye amid heightened tensions over several issues including the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean Seas, Cyprus, and arms accumulation, the publication said.
The move would also significantly help Athens’ wider regional strategy to curb Ankara and its influence over Libya. Since early November, Exxon Mobil has been conducting seismic surveys in two blocks off Crete hoping to discover energy resources.
In response, Libya accused Greece of exploiting the Libyan crisis to impose a fait accompli and decried Athens’ “irresponsible behavior” of striking a deal with international companies to launch research and exploration efforts on the maritime borders between them.
Türkiye and Greece are at odds over several issues, including competing claims to jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean, overlapping claims over their continental shelves, maritime boundaries, airspace, energy, the ethnically split island of Cyprus, the status of the islands in the Aegean Sea and migrants.
Relations deteriorated after Erdoğan said Mitsotakis “no longer exists” for him, when the Greek premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis lobbied to block sales of F-16 fighter jets to Türkiye during a visit to the United States, despite previously agreeing with Erdoğan “to not include third countries in our dispute.”
In May, Erdoğan cut ties with Mitsotakis and declared all other channels of communication between the countries closed.
The most recent incidents to have triggered tensions include two Greek coast guard boats opening fire on a cargo ship in international waters, continued pushbacks by Greek elements recorded by Turkish UAVs and previous harassment of Turkish fighter jets on a NATO mission by Greece’s Russian-made S-300s.
On the other side, Türkiye on Friday accused the Greek Cypriot administration of increasing tension in the Eastern Mediterranean after a consortium of Italian and French energy companies found more natural gas off the island earlier this week.
The Greek Cypriot administration’s hydrocarbon activities “have been carried out unilaterally” and “violate the rights of the Turkish Cypriots, who are one of the co-owners of all natural resources of the island,” the Foreign Ministry said.
“These activities also increase the tension, and threaten peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said in a statement, adding that Türkiye “would not allow hydrocarbon exploration or exploitation activities in its continental shelf without consent.”
A consortium of Italy’s Eni and France’s TotalEnergies found more natural gas off Cyprus, the country’s Energy Ministry said on Wednesday.
The Greek Cypriot administration’s exploration program is hotly disputed by Türkiye, which cites overlapping jurisdictions either on its own continental shelf or in the waters of the Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
The island of Cyprus has been doomed to a decadeslong struggle between its two people, Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Ethnic attacks starting in the 1960s forced Turkish Cypriots to withdraw into enclaves for their safety and a 1974 coup aiming at Greece’s annexation led to Türkiye’s military intervention.
The conflict has been ongoing for long years, drawing multiple international efforts for a solution. The U.N. has been working for years to reach a comprehensive agreement on the Cyprus issue, proposing a reunification plan for a federation and sponsoring peace talks that eventually broke down.
While Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration support the U.N.’s suggestion of a federal Greek Cypriot administration, the TRNC and its guarantor Türkiye have been resolutely calling for a two-state solution, stressing that “the sovereign equality and the equal international status of the Turkish Cypriots are non-negotiable.”
As guarantor power, Türkiye is also at loggerheads with its Aegean neighbor Greece over both the Cyprus issue and gas and oil exploration rights in their shared waters.
Source : Daily Sabah