East Med crisis: Erdogan ramps up rhetoric against Greece, Cyprus

Turkish leader says countries will get ‘response they deserve’ amid growing anger over Ankara’s new research mission.

The Turkish research vessel Oruc Reis is currently at the heart of a dispute over the Eastern Mediterranean [File: Burhan Ozbilici/AP]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday accused Greece and Cyprus of failing to fulfil “promises” made during negotiations within the European Union and NATO and said his country would continue to give them “the response they deserve”.

Erdogan’s comments came days after Ankara redeployed its search vessel, Oruc Reis, for a new energy exploration mission in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean, reigniting tensions with Greece and Cyprus over sea boundaries and exploration rights. Turkish media reports said two navy frigates are shadowing the search vessel.

Those tensions had flared up over the summer, prompting a military build-up, bellicose rhetoric and fears of a confrontation between the two NATO members and historic regional rivals.

“Our Oruc Reis has returned to its duty in the Mediterranean,” Erdogan told legislators of his ruling party in a speech in parliament. “We will continue to give the response they deserve on the field, to Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration who have not kept their promises during talks within the EU and NATO platforms.”

He did not spell out what the promises were, but Turkish officials have been accusing Greek officials of engaging in a series of “provocations” despite efforts to revive the so-called exploratory talks between the neighbours that were aimed at resolving disputes and were last held in 2016.

Heiko Maas, the foreign minister of Germany, which has been mediating between Athens and Ankara in a bid to ease the tensions, criticised Turkey on Tuesday for taking “unilateral steps” in the eastern Mediterranean, which he said were undercutting efforts to deescalate tensions. The US Department of State issued a statement deploring Turkey’s move.

Ankara says the Oruc Reis was redeployed following provocative acts by Athens, including a decision to hold military drills in the Aegean Sea on Turkey’s main national holiday.

During his speech, Erdogan also rebuffed international criticism over Turkey’s move to open the beachfront of Cyprus’s fenced-off suburb of Varosha in divided Cyprus’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot north.

“The fenced-off Varosha region belongs to the Turks of Northern Cyprus. This should be known as such,” he said.

Varosha remained off-limits and in Turkish military control after its Greek Cypriot residents fled before advancing troops in 1974, when Turkey invaded and sliced the island along ethnic lines after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Separately, Erdogan declared that he would on Saturday announce details of the discovery of a new natural gas reserve off the Black Sea coast.

In August, Turkey announced the discovery of 320 billion cubic metres of gas, which the country said would help ease its dependence on imports.

Source: AP