ANKARA: Athens has put last week’s Turkey-Libya deal on maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean on the agenda of NATO’s London summit.
The summit, intended to contribute to a resolution of the Syrian conflict, has faced a number of crises, including the latest war of words between the Turkish and French presidents.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Emmanuel Macron “brain dead” after the French president said NATO was suffering “brain death” due to a lack of co-ordination among allies, particularly over Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria in October.
Greece intends to demand the support of the other allies in what it sees as Ankara’s attempts to violate Greek sovereignty, notably after last week’s agreement with Libya.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis argued that NATO “cannot remain indifferent when one of its members blatantly violates international law and that a neutral approach is to the detriment of Greece, which has never sought to ratchet up tensions in the area.”
Cyprus and Egypt have also condemned the Turkey-Libya deal, finding it “illegal” and contrary to international law. The Greek and Egyptian foreign ministers discussed the matter in Cairo on Sunday.
The deal brought another fault line to the tension in the region between the countries over oil and gas drilling rights. Turkey, which does not recognize the statehood of Cyprus, is conducting drilling activities in waters where the Greek part of the divided island nation claims to have exclusive economic rights.
Some experts claim that Greece might become closer to Russia if NATO does not meet its expectations over the Turkey-Libya deal. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with his Greek counterpart on Nov. 7 and underlined the importance of Russia-Greece cooperation.
Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst and doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, thinks that Greece has been trying to capitalize on the deterioration of Turkey-US relations to become an increasingly important eastern Mediterranean partner.
“Turkey’s maritime border agreement with Libya reflects a rise in bilateral tensions with Greece, but also Ankara’s desire to test NATO’s willingness to critique its conduct. Greece would be very frustrated if NATO did not pressure Turkey on this issue, but a polarization is entirely possible, due in part to disagreements between France and Spain,” he told Arab News.
France was against Turkey’s recent two-week-long incursion into northern Syria, while Spain announced support for the operation.
According to Ramani, if NATO does not take Greece’s side, it is possible that Athens could play the Russia card and court closer relations with Moscow.
“Greece, which already has the Russian S-300, could purchase new Russian weapons systems to counter-balance Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400. So a pivot to Russia won’t be a complete reorientation of Greek foreign policy but a demonstration of Greece’s flexibility. It will show that if NATO doesn’t deliver, Athens has a strong partnership in Moscow,” he said.
For Ramani, Greece could also try to leverage these ties with Russia in the hope of getting Putin to convince Erdogan to refrain from provocations in the eastern Mediterranean.
“Regarding regional dynamics, it is conceivable that Russia could establish closer relations with Greece and Turkey simultaneously, expanding its beach-head in southeastern Europe at a time when further EU accessions in the western Balkans are gaining scrutiny. This beach-head would mirror its balancing strategies in the Middle East and bolster Russia’s international status,” he said.
But some other analysts call this an “exaggeration” considering the growing presence and diplomatic initiatives of the US in the eastern Mediterranean.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and US President Donald Trump are set to meet on Jan. 7.
According to Dr. Michael Tanchum, senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES), the period between the NATO summit and the Greece-US meeting could witness efforts by Turkey to strengthen its hand and gain leverage in Libya and in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Libyan National Army previously claimed that Ankara has been supplying Turkish-made medium-range unmanned aerial vehicles to the rival Government of National Accord (GNA) that holds the capital, Tripoli.
In early November, EU foreign ministers adopted a mechanism to impose sanctions on Turkish officials or companies involved in “unauthorized drilling activities” in the eastern Mediterranean.
Praxoula Antoniadou Kyriacou, a former Cypriot energy minister and now a leader of the liberal United Democrats party, has long emphasized that energy is a “make or break” opportunity in Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean.
“There are win-win approaches and lose-lose approaches. A win-win approach would include working within and respecting international law and at the same time initiating dialogue which is inclusive of all concerned,” Kyriacou told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
For Kyriacou, military options have brought nothing but destruction in the eastern Mediterranean and will not yield any long-term benefits.
“We need to enter into dialogue within the framework of international law and aim to find solutions that create added value for all concerned,” she said.