Simmering Tensions in the Aegean Sea Call for Sagacious Diplomacy


Turkiye and Greece, two of the strongest countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region find themselves trading accusations once again as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan warned Greece of retaliation for what it sees as ‘unlawful’ actions by the Greek military against Turkish aircraft patrolling within Turkish airspace.

A Century of Greek-Turkish Rivalry

President Erdogan also claims that Greece is militarizing the hitherto non-militarized islands that were handed over by Turkiye to Greece under the terms of treaties signed in 1923 and 1947. The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has even gone as far as to suggest that his country might reconsider Greece’s sovereignty over the islands. On 3 September, while addressing a rally in Samsun province, Erdogan upped the ante by stating ‘We will do what is necessary’.

Greek-Turkish maritime disputes are nothing new. As recently as last year, the two countries became embroiled in yet another dispute when Turkey signed an agreement with the UN-recognized government of Libya to demarcate their maritime boundaries and an Exclusive Economic Zone to allow Libyan oil exports to Turkiye, conflicting not only with Greece’s EEZ around the island of Crete, but also posing a challenge to a gas pipeline being planned by Greece, Cyprus and Israel. Moreover, Turkiye has invested heavily in supporting Libya’s GNA government to secure its oil needs, and is not likely to tolerate any challenge.

The Greek Response

The government of Greece is consciously trying to downplay these aggressive statements. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has outright dismissed these accusations as ‘absurd’ and ‘outrageous’, while at the same time reminding his audience that the country remains ever-prepared to defend its sovereignty against all kinds of adventurism. Furthermore, the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias has responded to Erdogan by arguing that due to the proximity of the Greek islands Kos and Rhodes to the Turkish coast and heavy Turkish military deployment, Greek concerns about the security of the islands are valid. Moreover, Greece accused Turkey of invading Greek airspace and maritime space thousands of times in 2022 alone.

Electoral Pandering?

While these statements are a cause for concern, there is also reason to suggest that there is little threat of actual violence between the two NATO members. The two countries have been trading similar accusations for decades but have been at peace since 1922 after the Greco-Turkish War. The Turkish people are headed to the polls in 2023 to select their next President, which suggests that these statements are meant mainly for public consumption and to serve as a rallying cry for his supporters. 2023 is also the year when the Treaty of Lausanne expires, raising Erdogan’s aspirations for regaining Turkish pride by reclaiming sovereignty over the Turkish straits connecting sea traffic between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Nobody is likely to take any such claims seriously, if they are ever made.

Regional Intervention and the Role of Allies

Many regional powers are heavily invested in peace in the Eastern Mediterranean and have frequently intervened to restore calm between the two neighbors. NATO has been the traditional arbitrator of peace between Greece and Turkiye and has intervened on several occasions. In 2020, both nations accepted a NATO-brokered deal after disagreements following Turkish hydrocarbon exploration in what Greece later claimed to be its continental shelf.

Additionally, Russia enjoys cordial relations with Greece and has recently warmed up with the government in Turkiye. Hence, it would not want to open up another conflict zone in the region given its current engagement in Ukraine. During the 2021 dispute, France openly allied with Greece which ultimately helped to bring down the temperature a few notches down. The Turkish government has already begun internationalizing the issue by sending letters to all EU members, the NATO Secretary General, and the UN Secretary-General.

The Economic Cost

Both countries cannot truly afford any kind of military escalation. The Greek economy has just nearly stabilized after years of negative growth whereas Turkiye’s economic growth is also uncertain. Neither country would want to jeopardize their growth when the entire global economy is experiencing massive inflation and shortages. Thus, while similarly bombastic statements might be made by both sides in the coming days, they are likely to peter down once the relevant powers step in to restore sanity.

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Turkish hegemony in Mediterranean likely to develop mess for Region

A powerful alliance against Turkey has been formed to oust it from the Eastern Mediterranean. This happened after a series of incidents in recent weeks that could be a severe blow to Erdogan’s rhetoric of an Ottoman dream.

Turkey has been gearing up for combat on a series of fronts that could have serious repercussions in the case of any backfire of these bold war fronts under current Turkey’s economic challenges. Turkey has been locking horns in Libya with Egypt, where Khalifa Haftar has a strong backing of its alliance. In case of any conflict in Libya, it could be a major catastrophe that will engage Turkey in proxies for many years to come.

In Eastern Mediterranean Turkey, maritime conflict with Greece created international headlines when a Turkish seismic research vessel was escorted by Greece warships into the sea between the Greece island of Crete and Cyprus. The situation intensified when French President Emmanuel Macron ordered forces to move into the Eastern Mediterranean in support of Greece. Turkish President Erdogan later softened his stance and showed interest in a win-win solution in the interests of all the stakeholders.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo met with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Vienna to discuss the maritime conflict between Turkey and Greece. He also met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in the Dominican Republic to discuss the conflict between two NATO alliances. Nevertheless, Turkey has plans to issue gas exploration and drilling licenses in the area between the Greek island of Crete and Cyprus. That could cause even more tension in this developing conflict.

Recently, Turkey has developed a conflicting attitude policy towards its major alliances, and this a conflicting policy with a stern mindset, making Turkey an unreliable alliance. Despite the member of NATO, Turkey reportedly gets involved in various conflicts inside NATO. Being part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Turkey has areas of conflict inside OIC member countries and is trying to form a new separate block against the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, in which Turkey has a leadership role in leading the Muslim countries. On the other side, Erdogan is actively creating a serious divide between Turkey and its western allies. He is dreaming of a revival of the Ottoman era. And since actions speak louder than words, Turkey has officially converted the Hagia Sophia Museum into the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. Such a decision has drawn a wide range of criticism from Turkey’s western allies, as well as from inside the country.

Turkey has created the impression among Muslim countries that it can cause much deprivation and misery, as compared to Saudi Arabia that is in a leading role of the Muslim Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). In recent developments, after the historic peace deal between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, Turkey threatened to end its diplomatic ties with the UAE. However, Turkey was the first Muslim majority country to recognize the State of Israel in March 1949. Turkey, nonetheless, has severe reservations on whether the UAE would establish ties with Israel.

In a broader perspective, Turkey has tumultuous relations with Russia and the United States. Because of the S400 Missile situation, Turkey’s relations with the United States worsened. In the aftermath of this, the Turkey Idlib operation and dealing with the Syrian President Bashar Assad led to Ankara’s relations with Moscow also turning sour. However, Erdogan tried to mend these ties, yet Russian interests in Libya may come under attack in the case of any upcoming major confrontation between Turkey and other stakeholders in this upcoming conflict zone. Turkey is trying to increase its influence and its Ottoman footprint in various directions, whether East or West. Nonetheless, Turkey’s economic position and the increasing political challenges may not accompany Turkey towards this Ottoman revival.

A debate has also ensued within Muslim countries following the stance of the UAE towards recognition of Israel, and at this juncture of time, major criticism came from Turkey, which has already recognized Israel and has hosted the consulate and embassy of Israel in Ankara for decades. The present scenario is getting complicated for the entire region, with possible consequences and repercussions coming to light. Turkey is going to open multiple fronts to deal with these issues, and the coming weeks could be crucial for the situation in the Mediterranean, as well as for future bilateral relations of different Muslim countries.

Idlib: An Uphill Battle for Turkey

The killing of 33 Turkish soldiers in air raids in Syria’s Idlib province is likely to prove a major blow for President Tayyip Erdogan, who has made up his mind to lock horns with Russia in Syria. Turkey has been pushed towards a frontline war with Northern Syria by its Western allies without knowing the consequences of this unending battle.

Four Turkish political parties in the Turkish parliament issued a joint statement to condemn this attack by signing a statement of political means solution based on international law to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the region.

Turkish President Erdogan asked Putin “to get out of the way” and let the Turkish troops deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad. The United States and Russia used their full strength in Syria, and finally, the US stepped back, failing to down the Assad government in Syria. Turkey is demanding the same thing to replace the United States’ role in Syria while challenging Russian interests in Idlib.

Turkish wrath is serious; it has been widely shared on social media. Who did Turkey hold responsible for the killing of 33 Turkish troops? Is it Syria or Russia? Will Turkey confront Russia in Syria directly? These questions are now in everyone’s mind. Who will be the target of the Turkish wrath? These questions are still unanswered.

Before the Syrian crisis, Turkey enjoyed excellent relations with all Arab countries and had strategic cooperation councils with the majority of them. Because of ex-Turkish policies that relayed on zero problems with the neighbors, now everything is different and Turkey is facing challenges not only with its neighbors but with everyone.

The problems of Turkish president mounted after the Arab spring because his Ottoman dreams had awakened, he thinks that he can rebuild the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the majority of Arabic countries for about 400 years. Syria was the greatest failure for Erdogan, this substantial failure was heard inside Turkey, when a military coup took place against him on July 15, 2016. At that time, Putin helped him to survive, although of course, such help wasn’t for nothing. Putin thought to himself that a weak Erdogan is better than another strong army ruler, and Erdogan may help him in Syria. Still, after four years, Erdogan changed his mind, which caused Putin to become rather upset and angry with him.

Turkey has been rolling between its Western allies and Russia for the past several years. Turkey is not a stable partner and is a bit confused about choosing its strategic interests in various regions. Physically located between East and West, Turkish foreign policy is also hanging between the East and West.

If we take a look at the recent developments and track record of Turkey, it is very interesting. Turkey shot down a Russian SU-24 jet in 2015, after which we witnessed very tense relations between Turkey and Russia. Soon after this, Russian tourists stopped visiting Turkey, which resulted in a substantial financial loss to Turkey. Russians tourists are top of the list of any other nationality visiting Turkey with 6.9 million visitors and a 16 per cent share in total foreign tourists. Therefore, Turkey should keep in mind that any major confrontation with Russia severely affects the Turkey tourism sector and is damaging for the already ramshackle Turkish economy. There have been several phases of bitter ties between Russia and Turkey. Still, on the purchasing of S-400 missiles, Turkey went to a very tense level of ties with the United States (US), but again Turkey is favourite for its Western allies, so the west takes it as like contumacy.

Despite the major conflicts with the US and now with Russia, Turkey wants both Russian S-400 missiles and US, F-35. Again it’s a strange demand that Erdogan wants to be fulfilled, but a brilliant choice if Turkey wants to hit back the US. In that case, they must have an F-35, and if they confront Russian in Idlib, then they have S-400 missiles.

Turkey and Erdogan have a diversity of foes and friends. Turkey believes in making friends with those who are the foes of their opponents, but that does not work in call cases. Sometimes Turkey’s enemies are Turkey’s friends, and Turkey’s friends are Turkey’s enemies. Like in the current scenario, Turkey is considering having joint operations with Israel; nevertheless, Israel is on the top of the list of Turkish foes. Erdogan used Israel’s rhetoric for applauding inside and outside Turkey.

Turkey has been actively involved in numerous fronts, lobbying inside Muslim blocs to take over the Muslim world leadership role.

Many countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and even Turkey’s NATO allies are waiting for this moment to see Turkey in troubled waters in Syria. Both fear to see Erdogan trying to realize his dream of the rein of the Ottoman Empire. However, it would be tough to revive the Ottoman era: the West is concerned about Erdogan’s various speeches with hints about that.

At this stage, the situation in Northern Syria is interesting, and any aggressive move might lead to a serious battle.

Following the air raids at Turkish troops, prospects of a direct military confrontation between Turkey and Russia are very high. Amidst the prevailing scenario, tensions between the two sides are alarmingly high, although both sides are looking for their respective stakes. As per available indicators, the two countries are ready for de-escalation to some extent, but the risk of an incidental escalation is more substantial than expected.





Turkic Council Emerges As A Powerful Body In The Caucasus And Central Asia

At the 7th Summit of the Turkic Council in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku the members of Turkish Speaking states increased to five after the official membership acceptance of Uzbekistan that makes this body one of the most powerful in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States, also known as the Turkic Council, was established back in 2009 with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey as the group’s founding members. Uzbekistan applied for membership of Turkic Council on September 2019. At the Turkic Council’s summit in Kyrgyzstan in September 2018, Hungary joined the group as an observer state.

Azerbaijan has taken the chair of the Turkic-Council for this year. Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev termed that the cooperation between the Turkic-Speaking states is one the priority of his country’s foreign policy. The final statements of the summit of the Cooperation Council of ​the Turkic-speaking States express support for the territorial integrity of state borders.

The Turkic-Council states have very strong cooperation that is based on common cultural values, traditions, and language. Through this platform, this cooperation further enhanced and Turkic-Council has become one of the most influential bodies in the Caucasus and Central Asian countries.