Greece, Turkey withdraw ships from Imia but Cyprus stalemate remains
The tension between Greece and Turkey after the incident near the Imia islets in the eastern Aegean on Monday night showed signs of deescalation yesterday as both Greek and Turkish vessels withdrew from the vicinity.
The de-escalation came as Athens seeks to highlight Ankara’s provocative stance in the Aegean and Cyprus as a threat not just to Greece, but to the borders of the European Union and the wider region as well.
To this end sources yesterday said that Athens will seek to activate the EU’s mutual defense clause that calls for solidarity in dealing with external threats. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said yesterday he was “strictly against the behavior of Turkey.” The initial stance of the EU has been well received in Athens, which says the escalation by Turkey is intentional due to the difficult position Ankara finds itself on the domestic and international fronts. “[Turkey] has opened up many fronts at the same time and this has contributed to nervousness and a tendency to increase its provocations,” Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said, adding that “any move by Turkey will be answered not just by the Greek side but by the EU and international organizations.” Meanwhile, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos told his NATO counterparts in Brussels yesterday that there is no doubt that Turkey is escalating tension intentionally. Statements by Turkish Premier Binali Yildirim yesterday sug- gested Ankara is entering phase of de-escalation, but the government said it will remain on full alert. Yildirim said that the Aegean should be a sea of friendship and refrained from repeating the claim made by the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Tuesday that Imia belongs to Turkey – even though he blamed Monday’s incident on Greek violations. Tensions on Cyprus however remain, as Turkish warships continued their blockade of Block 3 in the island’s exclusive economic zone. Moreover, Yildirim told Premier Alexis Tsipras that Nicosia cannot continue with gas exploration without a solution to the Cyprus problem. The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed hope that all interested states will act in accordance with international law.