ATHENS: Greece and its EU allies held war games in the Mediterranean on Wednesday while Turkey conducted drills with the US navy nearby as the row between the two neighbours over gas and maritime borders ratched up another notch.
The convergence of a growing number of warships on an energy-rich but disputed patch of the sea between Cyprus and Crete came as Nato and a host of European officials called for cooler heads to prevail.
Greece and Turkey are ancient rivals with a litany of disputes despite both being members of the Nato military alliance.
They nearly went to war over some uninhabited islets in 1996 and had a collision between frigates while Turkey was searching for energy in the east Mediterranean earlier this month.
The threat of another conflict between them could imperil Europe’s secure access to a wealth of new energy resources and draw in nations such as Egypt and war-torn Libya.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he was “personally regularly in contact with Ankara and Athens”.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas shuttled between Athens and Ankara on Tuesday in a bid to get talks back on track and avoid what he described as a “catastrophe”.
But his efforts failed to secure a firm promise from either side to drop their sabre rattling and engage in constructive talks.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Greece on Wednesday that Turkey would “make no concessions on that which is ours”.
Greece was able to secure the support of France -- which became the EU’s biggest military power after Britain formally left the bloc -- in three days of war games starting on Wednesday that also include Italy and Cyprus.
The Turkish defence ministry conducted its own drills with an Italian navy vessel on Tuesday.
And the same US destroyer that took part in the exercises with Turkey had staged air and sea manoeuvres with the Greek navy south of Crete on Monday.
The seeming shifts in allegiance highlight Rome and Washington’s desire to avoid challenging Erdogan because of Turkey’s importance to the conflicts in Libya and the Middle East.
But France has joined Greece in shadowing the Turkish vessels and is openly warning Erdogan against overplaying his hand.
The eastern Mediterranean “should not be a playground for the ambitions of some -- it’s a shared asset,” French Defence Minister Florence Parly said.
Tensions began escalating 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.
Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2020