Greece expects French to arrive, Turkey extends survey
Monday evening Turkey announced that it would renew its survey in the Greek Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) until the 12th of September. In the meantime, Athens is counting on France and the French aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle, that will be sent with escorting ships to the east of the Mediterranean in early September.
Tensions between Greece and Turkey continue to mount, stirred up again and again by rhetoric and new plans that are going against the grain of the neighboring country.
Expansion of territorial waters
Greece announced its intention to expand territorial waters in the Ionian Sea from six to 12 nautical miles. The latter is the standard according to the Law of the Sea Convention, but in the part of the Mediterranean that is covered by Greek islands, this is a very sensitive point. Certainly because Athens immediately mentioned that, although this extension concerns the west side, the Greeks are entitled to expand the territorial waters in other areas as well, if they wish. This immediately resulted in a response from Ankara. For Turkey, expanding Greek territorial waters to twelve miles, Turkish officials reported, has been a casus belli for Turkey since 1995.
At the same time, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly lashed out at Greece and its “former colonialist allies” (France) in recent days. Erdogan warned Greece last week that it will never budge when it comes to energy reserves and yesterday that Turkey has the full right to protect the interests of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots and that it does not tolerate piracy. Erdogan also advised Greece to study its history carefully.
The Turkish authorities have also studied that history themselves, a history that is full of wars between the two countries. This past week resulted in a propaganda film that mixes images from the Ottoman Empire with the issues between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey. Whatever the purpose of the video, it does not exactly express reconciliation or the intention to reach a solution through the negotiating table.
FS Charles de Gaulle
While the European Union is discussing possible sanctions, Greece has pinned its hope on France. Last Sunday, the French Defense Minister announced in a TV program on the French channel Europe 1 that the Charles de Gaulle, after cleaning and adjustments, is ready to go back to sea in early September.
According to Greek and Turkish media, the Charles de Gaulle will move to the east of the Mediterranean. Greek media, who can sometimes barely hold back not to exaggerate, also report that the ship will be sent to the Aegean Sea with nuclear submarines, FREMM frigates fully “ready for war”.
We have yet to see whether that will actually happen, the carrier is currently still in Toulon and can also be sent past Operation Irini. A visit to the Aegean Sea is not unlikely, especially since the French president will also visit Athens on the 10th of September. Macron had previously said it would strengthen France’s naval presence in the east of the Med.
Macron will probably not only talk about Turkey in Athens. The negotiations between Greece and France about new frigates have started again. As is known, Naval Group had offered the Greeks two Belharra frigates for 3 billion euros. That turned out to be too much for the Greek treasury.
Naval Group would now have offered the Greeks two Belharras without Scalp cruise missiles and without modifications to Greek wishes. The price is now two billion for two ships.
Those costs may well be feasible. Especially now that Greek finance minister Christos Staikouras said on Monday that Greece is ready to tap into its financial reserves for military purposes. For years there have been cutbacks in Greek defense, after Greece has repeatedly been financially supported with emergency packages from the EU. This last happened in August 2018.
However, Staikouras has now said that the Ministry of Finance will do everything possible to support government policy on the Greece-Turkey issue. This support, he says, will not only consist of buying weapons, but it will be part of a more comprehensive defense strategy that will unfold in the coming years. Where the priority will lie is still unknown, but Greece has around € 34 billion in unused EU aid and economic turnover as a buffer. These funds can be used in the conflict against Turkey.
Oruç Reis stays until September 12th
The issue between Greece and Turkey has not been resolved for the time being. Certainly not because the research vessel Oruç Reis, which has been conducting research in the Greek EEZ since the 10th of August, is staying longer. Turkey announced this last night.
There is therefore no reason for the Turkish or Greek navies to return to the ports earlier and the tension remains at least the same.