ANKARA: While Turkey and Greece came together to resume talks over their maritime disputes, the decades-long tension between the countries has resurfaced again.
Ankara claimed four Greek F-16 jets harassed a Turkish research vessel in the Aegean Sea on Tuesday by dropping a flare two miles away from the ship near the Greek island of Lemnos — an accusation that was quickly denied by Athens.
Greece’s Air Force was conducting an exercise in the Aegean Sea at the time, but allegedly far away from the Turkish vessel.
In a press briefing, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said his country responded with the “necessary retaliation in line with the rules. While we are carrying out scientific work, harassment is not correct. It doesn't fit in our good neighborly ties.”
The Greek Defense Ministry insisted their jets never harassed the Turkish vessel.
Turkey’s new research vessel, the TCG Cesme, conducted annual hydrographic survey work last week in international waters between the two countries, stirring Athens' anger.
The Greek Foreign Ministry criticized the presence of the Turkish vessel in the area, describing it as “an unnecessary move that doesn't help positive sentiment.”
In retaliation, Ankara accused Greece of conducting similar military exercises in the Aegean Sea near islands that are supposed to be non-militarized by international and bilateral agreements.
The incident triggered, once again, the unresolved bilateral dispute over maritime zones as both countries continue to pursue energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The second round of exploratory talks was expected to be held in Athens in early March. It was scheduled ahead of the EU Summit on March 25-26, during which Brussels will decide on possible sanctions on Ankara over its energy exploration missions in the eastern Mediterranean.
“It is important that the resumption of exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey does not elicit hopes for a breakthrough,” George Tzogopoulos, a senior fellow at the International Center of European Formation, told Arab News.
“The two countries interpret dialogue in different terms and employ relevant political communication strategies. New tensions concerning the research ship Cesme are nothing new in the modern history of bilateral relations, but they further deteriorate an already toxic climate.”
Turkish-Greek relations have already been tested with the Cyprus conflict as Ankara ruled out discussing a federal system to reunify the divided island.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Feb. 10 that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis “will get to know the crazy Turks as well.”
The harsh rhetoric illustrates Turkey’s anger about the bizonal and bicommunal federation offer from Greece, and it did not stop there.
“Exploratory talks were supposed to be held in Athens but Mitsotakis challenged me,” Erdogan said in the Parliament. “How can we sit down with you now? Know your place first.”
According to Tzogopoulos, without a positive agenda, long-term solutions are unlikely.
“For now the best we can hope for is avoiding a military accident, while experienced Greek and Turkish diplomats continue their work,” he said.
Tzogopoulos said that from a European perspective, a model of selective engagement with Turkey is being studied in Brussels.
“This will continue despite new tensions,” he said. “From a NATO perspective, deconfliction remains a priority and this goal has been met until now.”