Erdogan steps back in Eastern Mediterranean

Tensions between Greece and Turkey over oil and gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean eased a notch yesterday when President  Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that Turkey’s Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel had withdrawn from the disputed waters in the region back towards the Anatolian coast, ostensibly for ‘routine maintenance’ but also to allow some diplomatic breathing space between Ankara and Athens. Speaking after evening prayers in Istanbul, Erdogan also said he was ready to meet with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in person or via videoconference to discuss the stand-off which flared up last month when a convoy of warships escorted the Oruc Reis on a mission to conduct seismic research in territory both Ankara and Athens claim jurisdiction over. Matters came to a head soon afterwards when two ships accidentally collided.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos DendiasThe question of sovereignty over the hydrocarbon deposits that lie beneath the bed of the Eastern Mediterranean have been simmering for decades. This January, the energy ministers from Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian territories signed a deal to set up the East Mediterranean Gas Forum with Turkey notable by its absence, reportedly on the grounds of its ‘aggressive’ campaign of gas drilling in the region.
While the EU – led, naturally by Greece – today welcomed Erdogan’s latest move, the current situation in the Eastern Mediterranean is widely considered to be ‘the most dangerous in years’, as one analyst put it, and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias yesterday called on the EU to be ready to impose sanctions on Ankara if necessary. “The EU has drawn up a list of sanctions that will be brought to the attention of the Council and whether these sanctions will be implemented depends on Turkey’s behaviour. I have always hoped we would not to get to this point,” he said. Greece was always ready for dialogue but  not “under …pressure and blackmail,” he insisted.