Tur­key, Kastel­lorizo and Greek elec­tions

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY AN­GE­LOS SYRIGOS *

In 2012 Tur­key for­mally laid claim to the north­ern sec­tion of the East­ern Mediter­ranean. It was the year that sev­eral maps de­pict­ing sea ar­eas west of Cyprus and south of the east­ern Aegean is­lands of Rhodes and Kastel­lorizo were pub­lished in the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment gazette. The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment was ced­ing re­search and de­vel­op­ment rights of these ar­eas to state en­ergy com­pany TPAO. The tim­ing was di­rectly linked to po­lit­i­cal devel­op­ments in Greece. The maps were pub­lished on April 27, 2012, 10 days ahead of par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Greece on May 6.

It would be a mis­take to treat the con­ces­sion as an iso­lated ges­ture aimed sim­ply at tak­ing stock of Tur­key’s ter­ri­to­rial claims in the re­gion ahead of a po­lit­i­cal changeover in Greece. It was part of a larger plan to claim the big­gest part of the East­ern Mediter­ranean con­ti­nen­tal shelf. Sim­i­lar con­ces­sions to TPAO in 197374 marked the be­gin­ning of the prob­lem in de­lin­eat­ing the Aegean con­ti­nen­tal shelf. There has been no change since then. The tim­ing of those claims was linked to po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions in Greece dur­ing elec­tion time. Tur­key knows that when Greece is in pre-elec­tion mode (par­tic­u­larly dou­ble elec­tions, like those com­ing up in May), re­ac­tions tend to come with a de­lay. Greece went on to lodge the usual com­plaints with the United Na­tions, while is­su­ing vague con­dem­na­tions of Tur­key’s ac­tions. Seven years have passed since then. Ev­ery­one knows what Tur­key’s ex­act claims are in the area. Greece has still not come up with a clear def­i­ni­tion of what it con­sid­ers the pre­cise bound­aries of its con­ti­nen­tal shelf in the East­ern Mediter­ranean. It merely protests Tur­key’s ac­tions.

All that is pointed out for the fol­low­ing three rea­sons: First, in the com­ing weeks all eyes will be set on the state­ments by Exxon­Mo­bil Corp re­gard­ing off­shore ex­plo­ration in Block 10. The com­pany is listed on the New York Stock Ex­change and its share­hold­ers need to know if the big in­vest­ment in East­ern Mediter­ranean oil and gas drilling has paid off. A lot will de­pend on the an­swer. The size of the de­posit will de­cide the sus­tain­abil­ity of the EastMed pipe­line, in­cen­tives for fu­ture drills in the area, fresh talks to set­tle the Cyprus prob­lem (un­der the same ad­verse con­di­tions), and, ul­ti­mately, the strate­gic im­print of Greece and Cyprus on the new East­ern Mediter­ranean equi­lib­rium.

The sec­ond point is re­lated to Tur­key’s anx­ious moves to exit the East­ern Mediter­ranean dead­lock. At first it tried to stop re­search in blocks of Cyprus’s ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone (EEZ). Re­cent sig­nals, most prom­i­nent a state­ment by US As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State for Euro­pean and Eurasian Af­fairs Wess Mitchell, who said that Amer­ica “would not take a friendly view in any kind of harass­ment in Cyprus wa­ters, es­pe­cially when US ships are in­volved,” have been clear. Tur­key was quick to turn to the more fa­mil­iar area of the Aegean. Dif­fer­ences here are of a bi­lat­eral na­ture, be­tween Greece and Tur­key. As a re­sult, they are eas­ier to han­dle than the sit­u­a­tion in the East­ern Mediter­ranean, where many dif­fer­ent in­ter­na­tional play­ers are in­volved. But this did not last for long. In a di­rec­tive to sea­far­ers (nav­i­ga­tional telex, or nav­tex) on Jan­uary 3, Tur­key an­nounced that its re­search ves­sel Bar­baros Hayred­din Pasa will con­duct seismic sur­veys within a large chunk of the Greek con­ti­nen­tal shelf and the Cypriot EEZ in the East­ern Mediter­ranean. These are the ar­eas claimed by Tur­key in 2012. Un­til now, the Bar­baros used to con­duct il­le­gal sur­veys in parts of the Cypriot EEZ. It had for years stayed clear of the Kastel­lorizo and Rhodes con­ti­nen­tal shelves. This marks a shift in Turk­ish pol­icy that must be taken note of. Tur­key’s ac­tiv­ity near Kastel­lorizo is seen ap­proach­ing the south­east­ern Aegean is­land of Kastel­lorizo. In a di­rec­tive to sea­far­ers on Jan­uary 3, Tur­key an­nounced that its re­search ves­sel Bar­baros Hayred­din Pasa will con­duct seismic sur­veys within a large chunk of the Greek con­ti­nen­tal shelf and Cyprus’s ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone in the East­ern Mediter­ranean. does not im­pact on Amer­i­can in­ter­ests. Fur­ther­more, the sea area in ques­tion is of­fi­cially claimed by Ankara.

The third, and most wor­ry­ing, point is that 2019 is an elec­tion year in Greece. We are unof­fi­cially al­ready in pre-elec­tion mode. Po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion will be in full throt­tle. Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan will seek to ex­ploit the vac­uum, as he did in 2012. Any re­ac­tions to Ankara’s moves can­not pos­si­bly be dic­tated by whim or serve the po­lit­i­cal ends of Greece’s ju­nior coali­tion part­ner as it seeks to re­new its rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the House.

In­stead, Greece’s Tur­key pol­icy must be based on a broader plan that will take into con­sid­er­a­tion two things: 1) At stake is the un­ob­structed com­ple­tion of Cyprus’s en­ergy pro­gram, and 2) Tur­key will cen­ter its at­ten­tion on the Kastel­lorizo area as it con­sid­ers it to be the Achilles’ heel of Greece’s mar­itime claims.

Tur­key knows that when Greece is in pre-elec­tion mode, re­ac­tions tend to come with a de­lay

* An­ge­los Syrigos is an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional law and for­eign pol­icy at Athens’s Pan­teion Univer­sity.

A Greek sub­ma­rine

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Greece

© PressReader. All rights reserved.