Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has kicked off his visit to Turkey during which he will hold talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, a rare meeting between neighbours who have been at odds over maritime and energy issues, the status of Aegean islands and migration.
The Greek prime minister kicked off his visit to Istanbul on Sunday by attending an Orthodox Christian service at the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The two leaders are expected to discuss bilateral and international relations as well as the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Turkish presidency’s communications directorate said on Sunday.
The Sunday meeting comes as Ankara seeks to shore up its credentials as a regional power player by mediating the conflict.
On Thursday, the Turkish resort city of Antalya hosted the first talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba since the start of Russia’s invasion.
They failed to broker a ceasefire.
Now Mitsotakis will meet Erdogan, mindful that the burgeoning conflict in Ukraine looms larger than the longstanding tensions between Athens and Ankara.
The Greek government’s spokesman this week said Mitsotakis had already been planning to visit the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and had been invited to lunch by Erdogan at the presidential mansion on the banks of the Bosphorus.
Greece and Turkey are nominal NATO allies but have strained relations over competing maritime boundary claims that affect energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tensions flared in the summer of 2020 over exploratory drilling rights in areas in the Mediterranean where Greece and Cyprus claim their own exclusive economic zone, leading to a naval standoff.
Turkey also claims Greece is violating international agreements by militarising Aegean islands.
Since then, Greece has embarked on a major military modernisation programme.
Officials from both countries resumed exploratory talks in 2021 after a five-year pause to lay the groundwork for formal negotiations to begin but have not made much progress.
Greece has also accused Turkey of allowing refugees and asylum seekers to cross its land and sea borders despite a deal with the European Union to prevent irregular crossings, while Turkey and rights groups have documented Greek authorities’ practice of refugee “pushbacks” to Turkey.
But the two countries also cooperate on energy projects, including a newly built pipeline that spans their countries transporting natural gas from Azerbaijan to western Europe – a project that is part of Europe’s effort to reduce dependence on Russian energy exports.