Turkey files protest with Greece and US as Aegean tensions rise

Turkey summons Greek ambassador and files protest with US amid Aegean islands row, while Greece slams latest move as ‘unfounded’.

Greek coastguard
Turkey and Greece have decades-old disputes over many issues, including territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and disputes over the airspace there [File: Erdem Sahin/EPA]

Ankara has summoned the Greek ambassador and protested to Washington after accusing Greece of deploying United States armoured vehicles on two Aegean islands near the Turkish coast.

Greece branded the move on Monday as “completely unfounded”, and accused Ankara of aggressive behaviour.

Greece and Turkey, which are both part of the US-led NATO defence alliance, have feuded for years over maritime borders and energy exploration rights in the Aegean and east Mediterranean seas.

The latest escalation started when Turkish security sources shared aerial images over the weekend purportedly showing ships loaded with US armoured vehicles docking at two Greek islands, Lesbos and Samos.

The Turkish foreign ministry told the Greek envoy that Athens should “stop violations” and respect the non-military status the islands were assigned by international law, the Anadolu state news agency reported.

In a note to the US embassy in Ankara, Turkey told Washington that its “weapons should not be used in breach” of the islands’ agreed status, Anadolu said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan separately accused Greece of staging “provocations” and playing “perilous games”.

Athens rejected Ankara’s objections as “completely unfounded and incompatible with international law”, AFP news agency reported a Greek diplomatic source as saying.

The source added that the Greek ambassador, Christodoulos Lazaris, had written two letters to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to set out his country’s stance in detail.

‘Defend our country’s rights’

Erdogan has repeatedly accused Greece of “occupying” the Aegean islands, whose status was settled in treaties adopted after World War I.

In response, Athens accuses Turkey of conducting hundreds of illegal military sorties over the islands.

The Greek diplomatic source said Turkey had threatened its neighbour with war, accusing it of assembling a huge naval presence and violating Greece’s sovereignty and airspace.

Greece filed a formal complaint with the European Union, NATO and the United Nations after Erdogan hinted at a possible military operation in the Aegean earlier this month.

Erdogan continued his war of words on Monday, saying Greece was not Turkey’s equal and rejecting diplomatic talks.

“We will not fail to defend our country’s rights and interests against Greece by using all the means at our disposal, when necessary,” Erdogan said following a cabinet meeting.

Turkey and Greece have decades-old disputes over an array of issues, including territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and disputes over the airspace there. The disputes have brought them to the brink of war three times in the last half-century.

A Greek government official told The Associated Press news agency that Greece “fully respects” its international obligations, adding that the Greek ambassador told his interlocutors that “Greece is not the country that is threatening its neighbour with war or assembling a large landing force on its coastline as Turkey has done”.

The official added that Turkey “continues to violate Greece’s sovereignty with its continuous violations of its airspace and overflights of Greek territory.”

The official, who was not authorised to speak publicly to the news media, made the remarks on condition of anonymity.

Source: News Agencies