Erdogan threatens Greece amid standoff in Mediterranean

Reports of Turkish tank movement towards Greek border.
Sunday 06/09/2020
Warships from Greece, Italy, Cyprus and France, participate in a joint military exercise was held from 26-28 of August, south of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean. (AP)
Warships from Greece, Italy, Cyprus and France, participate in a joint military exercise was held from 26-28 of August, south of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean. (AP)

ANKARA - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday issued a threat to Greece over simmering tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, the day before his forces launched military drills in the region.

Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, have been embroiled in an increasingly heated dispute over gas and oil in the region since Turkey deployed an exploration vessel last month triggering protests of neighbouring countries.

“They will understand that Turkey has the political, economic and military strength to tear up immoral maps and documents,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.

He was referring to contested areas claimed by Greece and Cyprus as their exclusive economic zones.

“They will either understand the language of politics and diplomacy, or on the field through bitter experiences,” the Turkish leader warned.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, September 4. (AFP)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, September 4. (AFP)

“As Turkey and the Turkish people we are ready for every possibility and every consequence.”

Meanwhile, Turkish media reported that tanks were being moved towards the Greek border. The Cumhuriyet newspaper said 40 tanks were being transported from the Syrian border to Edirne in northwest Turkey and carried photographs of armoured vehicles loaded on trucks.

A military official speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations said the deployment was a regular movement of forces and unconnected to tension with Greece.

The president’s comments come after NATO said military officers from Greece and Turkey had begun technical discussions to reduce the risk of armed conflict or accidents.

The two NATO allies have been locked for weeks in a tense standoff in the eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey is prospecting the seabed for energy reserves in an area Greece claims as its own continental shelf.

Ankara says it has every right to prospect there and accuses Athens of trying to grab an unfair share of maritime resources.

Simulated dogfights between Greek and Turkish fighter pilots have multiplied over the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. A Turkish and a Greek frigate collided last month, reportedly causing minor damage to the Turkish frigate but no injuries.

Turkey faces a wide range of opponents in the eastern Mediterranean. France, Italy and the United Arab Emirates have all sent forces to join war games with either Greece or Cyprus in recent weeks. Egypt has signed an energy exploration deal with Athens for the Mediterranean.

The European Union, which counts Greece and Cyprus as members, has also threatened possible sanctions against Ankara over its “illegal” actions.

This week, the US announced it was easing a 33-year-old arms embargo against ethnically divided Cyprus.

The island split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkey is the only nation to recognise a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and it maintains more than 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus.

The recent crisis is the most serious in Turkish-Greek relations in decades. The neighbours have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s, including once over maritime resources in the Aegean.

Earlier, Ankara announced joint military exercises with northern Cypriot forces from Sunday to September 10.