Unbeknownst to the world community in July, Athens and Ankara was one step away from a military confrontation. In an interview with DW, the expert from Berlin, explained the reason for the sharp deterioration of the situation.
While the world media is busy with the lighting of a pandemic of mers in the Eastern Mediterranean has dramatically intensified the conflict between Greece and Turkey. The occasion was Ankara’s decision to send a research ship Oruc Reis to the coast of the Greek island of kastellorizo for the so-called “seismic studies” exploration of gas fields. Work must take place from 21 July to 2 August. In turn, the Greek authorities stated that it was not prepared to tolerate Turkey’s actions, as the exploration takes place in waters within the exclusive economic zone of Greece. Now the armed forces of both countries are given in high alert.
About the potential and implications of the conflict DW talked with Gunter Tiverton (G?nter Seufert), a specialist in Turkey and expert of the Berlin Foundation “Science and politics” (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik).
DW: According to unofficial data, the decision of the President of Turkey Erdogan about the gas exploration in the Greek Islands almost turned into a military conflict. Supposedly only through the intervention of the German Chancellor managed to avoid an open clash. Do you think that President Erdogan was prepared to take military action?
Gunther Seufert: We can assume that Erdogan will continue its policy of pinpoint military operations. Just as the Turkish President ignores the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus, spending drilling for gas production, it will ignore the interests of Greece. But whether it comes in the end to the military confrontation depends on how you will behave, Greece will offer Turkey if she talks or not. In addition, it depends on the position of the EU, and most importantly – US. Because Greece and Turkey are both countries of NATO and the leading members of the Alliance will need to intervene and offer their services intermediaries.
– However, until now the US and NATO have distanced themselves from the conflict, and the EU was limited to political statements…
– The EU has threatened sanctions, but further words business is not has gone. EU high representative for foreign policy Josep Borrell is now trying to bring both sides to the negotiating table. But they have to talk about. Both countries occupy quite maximalistic position. (…)Kastellorizo is located right off the coast of Turkey. But, according to Athens, despite the great length of the Turkish coast, Turkey can claim in these waters in the exclusive economic zone is relatively small. In Ankara, in turn, believe that the Islands in principle does not give the right to an exclusive economic zone. To solve this disagreement is possible only through negotiations.
Meanwhile, the US position in this conflict is difficult. On the one hand, they have Turkey many differences. Suffice it to mention the purchase by Ankara of the Russian anti-aircraft missile systems s-400. On the other hand, USA supported Turkey trying to prevent the growth of Russian influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Libya. Washington has not yet decided what is more important to confront Russia or to discipline Turkey. This lack of a single line and is Erdogan – as well as the indecisiveness of the European Union.
In this half of Germany presiding in the EU institutions. The Chancellor in this regard already stated that Berlin will make every effort to ensure that the European Union has developed a clear policy towards Turkey. Is it possible now, after the aggravation of the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean?
Is harder every day. In principle, the EU was correct framework conditions in relations with Turkey, namely the “road map” for the accession of Turkey to the EU. This process has been clearly defined, or rather is tied to the conduct of Turkey’s democratic reforms that were supported by all States of the European Union.
But this process of rapprochement failed, as due to the policy of Ankara and because of the position of Brussels. Now come to the fore of a separate topic – the issue of refugees, energy, Turkey’s role in Syria and Libya. In these matters each of the EU countries pursues its own national interests. To agree to these conditions on a common European policy towards Turkey is extremely difficult. Moreover, a single strategy is very important right now – that is, when Ankara behaving more and more aggressively, using refugees as a means of pressure (on the EU. – Ed.) and violating the exclusive economic zones of member countries of the EU.
26 years ago, the then US President bill Clinton failed in the last minute to stop an armed clash between Greece and Turkey over the island IMIA (Cardak). On Tuesday, July 21, the military escalation was stopped by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Does this mean that Berlin began to take over the functions previously provided by Washington?
– It is possible. USA today have increasingly focused on other regions, primarily the Pacific and confrontation with China. However, the EU has demonstrated its inability to develop a common European position in matters of foreign policy – primarily the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and the relations with Turkey. In the end, the signing of the Ankara agreement on refugees is due to Germany. In a divided Berlin the European Union should take the leading function, although, in my opinion, the German government makes it very reluctantly. Berlin is configured rather be in the ranks of other EU members than to lead this organization. But I believe that Germany simply has no other choice but to take the initiative.
On the same day when the ship Oruc Reis had to leave the port of Antalya, in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul for the first time in many decades, was the first prayer. This is a coincidence?
– No, it’s not a coincidence. The goal of President Erdogan is to revive the “great Turkey”. It’s not about the Turkey that Ataturk turned toward the West, and Turkey on the image of the Ottoman Empire. We say: we are the new regional power and we occupy the place left vacant due to the departure of the US and the weakness of the EU, and we support Sunni Muslims in the middle East. The practical consequence of this policy is the strengthening of the military potential of the Turkish army and the militarization of foreign policy in the Eastern Mediterranean. A symbolic continuation of this policy are events such as the transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.