Publicado: 26/08/2020

Greece, EU allies stage war games as Turkey dispute escalates

Greece, EU allies stage war games as Turkey dispute escalates

Athens (AFP) -

Greece and EU allies staged war games on Wednesday in the Mediterranean where Turkey's leader vowed to make 'no concessions' in an escalating row over gas exploration.

The military manoeuvres came a day after Germany offered to mediate in the dispute, the latest tensions to erupt between Turkey and Greece over maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

Greek public television reported that the three-day exercises had already begun Wednesday, though there was no immediate comment from the defence ministry.

The air and naval drills involving Greece, Cyprus, France and Italy show the four EU allies are committed to defending maritime and international law, the Greek defence ministry said.

France, now the EU's biggest military power after Brexit, underlined that support with Defence Minister Florence Parly saying the region 'should not be a playground for the ambitions of some -- it's a shared asset.'

Tensions escalated when Turkey sent the Oruc Reis research vessel accompanied by warships into disputed waters on August 10.

Greece responded by dispatching its own warships to track the Turkish vessels.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Athens not to take steps that could lead to its 'ruin' though his top diplomat has showed interest in German-sponsored negotiations as long as they are fair and carry no preconditions.

Last week EU foreign ministers convened an emergency video conference after Greek and Turkish warships collided in hotly disputed circumstances.

The joint exercises that the Greek defence ministry says will take place south of Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete follow Turkish military exercises on Tuesday.

The ministry said that 'the path of diplomacy remains the preferred means to settle' the dispute as 'only dialogue can lead to a de-escalation of tensions in the region.'

Parly said three Rafale jets, a frigate and a helicopter would take part for France in the exercises. Greek media said their forces involved at least one frigate and F-16 warplanes.

The discovery of major gas deposits in waters surrounding Crete and Cyprus has triggered a scramble for energy riches and revived old rivalries between NATO members Greece and Turkey.

- 'Pay the price' -

The war games take place against a backdrop of shuttle diplomacy led by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of Germany, the European Union's biggest economy and a powerful diplomatic player.

Maas, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, told Turkey and Greece to defuse the row or risk sparking a 'catastrophe'.

'No one wants to solve this issue in a militaristic way... and there is a willingness on both sides for dialogue,' he said as he ended a visit to both countries.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara was in favour of negotiations but they should aim at sharing gas resources fairly and carry no preconditions, which he says Greece is demanding.

EU ministers are due to meet in Berlin on Thursday and Friday when Greece is expected to press the bloc to slap sanctions on Turkey.

Erdogan -- who has long clashed with the EU over his country's drive to become a member of the 27-country bloc -- is standing tough.

'We want everyone to see Turkey is no longer a country whose patience, determination, means and courage will be tested. If we say we will do something, we will do it, and we will pay the price,' he said.

Turkey has longstanding tensions with not just Greece -- including over migration and Byzantine heritage -- but also Cyprus, which has been divided along ethnic Turkish and Greek-lines since a war in 1974.

Tensions are also high lately between France and Turkey over the conflict in Libya where both Paris and Ankara have accused the other of interference.

Meeting Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades in Paris last month, President Emmanuel Macron denounced what he called Turkey's 'violation' of the sovereignty of Greece and Cyprus.

Turkey is not only a longstanding ally within NATO, which includes many EU countries, but is party to a deal with Brussels to prevent uncontrolled migration to Europe, which dramatically split the bloc in 2015.

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