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Turkey and Greece held high-level meeting to discuss migration-related issues, while tensions continued in maritime domain. Following series of irregular migration incidents in Oct, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis 2 Nov met in Turkish capital Ankara to discuss migration issues; Soylu reportedly requested Athens to end pushback of migrants in exchange for Turkey accepting more than 1,000 migrants, proposed communication line between Greek and Turkish coastguards, and requested extradition from Greece of Turkish citizens accused of links with Turkish Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen and his network, which Ankara blames for carrying out 15 July 2016 coup attempt. Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 4 Nov reiterated that Ankara would not backtrack from its current positions in Eastern Mediterranean. Similarly, President Erdoğan 9 Nov said that Turkey will increase number of drill ships in Mediterranean and Black Sea, adding that “whatever is found will be extracted”. After review of framework for “restrictive measures” in response to Turkey’s “unauthorised drilling activities” in Eastern Mediterranean, European Council 11 Nov adopted decision extending regime for one year until 12 Nov 2022; EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell agreed to Greek-Republic of Cyprus proposal to consider imposition of measures against Turkey at Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Dec.
Maritime tensions persisted between Greece and Turkey while sides held new round of exploratory talks. After France and Greece last Sept announced defence and security deal that includes Greece’s purchase of three French frigates and mutual assistance clause, Turkish defence ministry 1 Oct said deal threatened NATO alliance and would fuel regional arms race. Turkish defence ministry 3 Oct accused Greece of “unlawful, provocative and aggressive” actions in Aegean Sea, citing Greek military drills in Sept 16km from Turkish coast and scientific research vessel in contested waters. Ankara also conducted numerous naval drills in Aegean Sea during month, including in contested maritime zones. In tentatively positive sign, Ankara and Athens 6 Oct held 63rd round of exploratory talks in Turkish capital Ankara; content of discussion not publicly disclosed and next round of talks expected to be held in Greek capital Athens in six months. Greece, Cyprus and Egypt 19 Oct jointly condemned Turkey’s activities in Eastern Mediterranean, following their 9th Trilateral Summit held in Athens; in response, Turkish foreign ministry said joint declaration is “nothing but a reflection of hostile attitude displayed by the Greek Cypriot side and Greece against Turkey and the TRNC [‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’]”. Turkish President Erdoğan and U.S. President Biden 31 Oct met on sidelines of G20 summit, focusing on bilateral relations as well as regional issues, including Eastern Mediterranean.
Diplomatic and maritime tensions continued between Greece and Turkey. Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar 9 Sept reiterated that Ankara will never accept any Greek move to extend its territorial waters in Aegean Sea, dismissing any possible effort in this direction by Athens as “empty dreams”; Akar also said Ankara was determined to press ahead with efforts to search for energy in eastern Mediterranean, in areas where it believes Ankara and Turkish Cypriots have rights. Turkish President Erdoğan same day complained of Greece’s “maximalist policies” and intentionally raising tensions in Aegean, which Greek officials same day dismissed by retorting that rhetoric was aimed at exerting pressure on Greece for demilitarisation of eastern Aegean islands. Maritime tensions 15-20 Sept rose amid series of Greek announcements of maritime activity and counter-advisories by Turkey. Tensions likely contributed to cancellation of high-level meetings between Greek and Turkish officials at UN General Assembly in New York, U.S., late Sept.
Maritime and diplomatic tensions continued between Greece and Turkey. In letter to EU Commission VP Margaritis Schinas, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi 3 Aug accused Turkey of endangering migrants, claimed Turkish Coast Guard escorted inflatable raft carrying migrants off Lesbos island and abandoned them when waves capsized raft. Turkish defence ministry 8 Aug published video allegedly showing Greek Coast Guard offloading vessel full of migrants on Turkish islet Başak, near Kastellorizo island; Ankara 11 Aug issued advisory for firing exercises east of Rhodes island 18-19 Aug; Athens 13 Aug issued advisory for aeronautical exercises held in same area 21 Aug. Turkish naval authorities 11 Aug announced vessel would conduct scientific research in uncontested waters in Aegean Sea 12 Aug-1 Sept. On diplomatic front, despite mutual support to address late July-early Aug unprecedented wildfires in both countries, ties continued to face strains. Notably, Turkey 1 Aug issued diplomatic note to Greek embassy in Ankara, claiming plain-clothed individuals killed Turkish citizen in cross-border fire on border area of Evros/Meriç; Greece same day rejected allegations and reminded Ankara of its obligation not to “allow the activity of traffickers”. Turkish authorities at Istanbul airport 13 Aug detained and deported President of Pan-Pontian Federation of Greece George Varythymiadis; Greek embassy in Ankara issued emergency démarche.
Positive overtures between Greece and Turkey were tainted by diplomatic spat over cancelled football fixture amid ongoing maritime tensions. Signs of conciliation between Greece and Turkey surfaced during month. Greek PM Mitsotakis 4 July appeared hopeful on short-term prospects of Greek-Turkish relations, stating: “I’m sure the summer of 2021 will be quieter than the summer of 2020 [...] what we have done is to clearly delineate what our lines are”. In reference to feasibility of drilling in maritime zones contested with Greece, Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez 13 July said: “We do not drill where there is no possibility of finding anything”. Tensions rose, however, after Turkish football team Galatasaray 12 July cancelled match against Greek team Olympiakos due to take place in Greece after Greek authorities requested additional COVID-19 test upon arrival in country. Dispute escalated when Turkish foreign ministry 12 July said incident “shows [Greece’s] intolerance towards our country”, Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 13 July communicated Turkish discontent to Greek FM Nikos Dendias, and Turkish foreign ministry same day summoned Greek ambassador to convey “strong protest”; Greek officials maintained they were merely following public health rules. Meanwhile, Turkey’s Antalya Station announced advisory for gunnery exercises just north of Greece’s Rhodes island for 6-9 of July, while Greece’s Heraklion Station announced French vessel Nautical Geo – leased by Greece, Cyprus and Israel – started scientific research in north of Greece’s Crete island, from 14 July “until further notice”.
Ankara and Athens held leader summit in Brussels, while maritime tensions in Aegean sea continued. Greek PM Mitsotakis and Turkish President Erdoğan 14 June held private meeting in Brussels where they agreed to mutually recognise COVID-19 certificates and reaffirmed their commitment to 25 economic cooperation measures. Erdoğan also revealed that he and Mitsotakis agreed to communicate over direct line “without involving others”. Despite positive diplomatic steps, maritime tensions continued. Greek Coast Guard HQ 12-13 June announced two collision incidents of Turkish and Greek Coast Guard vessels east and south of Greece’s Lesbos island; Turkish Coast Guard claimed collision was result of pushback operation against group of irregular migrants by Greek vessel and occurred within Turkish territorial waters. Greece carried out military exercises on land and at sea, including in south west of Greece’s Crete island 15-16 June and around Crete 28 May-11 June; 21 June issued advisory announcement for aeronautical exercises south of Greek islands Kastellorizo/Meis, scheduled for 29 June. Turkish defence ministry protested, claiming violation of agreement not to carry out exercises during tourist season, and 22 June announced military exercises between 15 June-15 September in response. European leaders discussed relations with Turkey during 24-25 June European Council summit; in its conclusions, Council supported de-escalation and dialogue in Eastern Mediterranean; Turkish ministry of foreign affairs 25 June responded that lack of progress on positive agenda was “delaying tactic” by some member states in order “to postpone concrete decisions”, such as modernisation of EU-Turkey customs union.
Greek and Turkish foreign ministers held second meeting on regional dialogue while both parties resumed new round of military talks. Following talks in Greek capital Athens between Greek FM Nikos Dendias and Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, sides 31 May announced steps to deepen commercial ties through 25 economic cooperation programs; Greek and Turkish leaders now due to meet on sidelines of NATO summit in June. Ahead of meeting with Turkish counterpart, Greek FM Dendias 14 May said: “We have to find a way to resolve issues with Turkey. And if we cannot find a solution, at least we could find a way to manage our differences”. Turkish and Greek military delegations held videoconference on confidence-building measures 26-27 May; sides could not agree on new measures or recommit to old ones, but announced they would hold next round of military-to-military talks in Turkish capital Ankara in coming months. Maritime tensions persisted. Athens issued advisories for live-fire exercises in disputed waters south-east of Katpathos 14-21 May, prompting Ankara to state that Greece did not have jurisdiction to make such announcements. Starting on 25 May, Turkey carried out large-scale military drill in Aegean and eastern Mediterranean with participation of more than 25,000 personnel. U.S. and Greek air forces 28 May began joint exercises. Turkey and Greece continued diplomatic engagement in region. Notably, Turkish and Egyptian diplomats 5-6 May held talks in Egyptian capital Cairo for first time in eight years; sides discussed Eastern Mediterranean and other regional issues. Greek FM Dendias 18 May visited Israel, Palestinian territories and Jordan, as well as Egypt 20 May.
Ankara hosted high-level Greek delegation for talks on regional disputes while maritime tensions continued between Turkey and Greece. In first visit by Greek minister in over two years, Greek FM Nikos Dendias 15 April met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Çavuşoğlu in Turkish capital Ankara for talks on contentious issues dividing NATO allies, including Cyprus, demilitarisation of Aegean islands and other issues. Outcome of meeting proved positive as sides confirmed resumption of political consultations, exploratory talks and military-to-military contacts on confidence-building measures; Dendias also invited Çavuşoglu to Greek capital Athens with prospect of preparing leaders’ meeting between Greek PM Mitsotakis and Turkish President Erdoğan. Post-meeting press conference, however, descended into heated exchange as FMs traded accusations of blame, highlighting potential for dialogue derailing. Meanwhile, maritime tensions continued between Turkish and Greek sides. Greek chief of staff 3 April asserted right to expand Greek territorial waters, prompting Turkish minister of defence to call comments “provocative”. Athens issued navigational advisory for military drills until 21 April in areas south of Greek island Rhodes; Ankara responded with own advisory, claiming jurisdiction over same maritime area. Athens 17-18 April issued advisory for energy exploration by French research vessel accompanied by Greek frigate in areas south of Greek island Crete, delimited under both Turkish-Libyan and Greek-Egyptian maritime deals; Ankara said Turkish military frigate deployed to area pushed back vessel. Mitsotakis and Dendias 6 April visited Libya, requesting annulment of Dec 2019 Turkish-Libyan maritime deal. Libyan PM Abdul Hamid Dbeibah 12 April visited Ankara, reaffirming validity of maritime deal; Turkish officials during month reiterated intention to embark on energy exploration activities in areas claimed under Turkish-Libyan deal.
Greece and Turkey held second round of talks amid continued regional tensions, notwithstanding improved ties between Turkey and Egypt. Greece and Turkey held 62nd round of “exploratory talks” on Aegean issues in Greek capital Athens on 16-17 March. Following talks, Greek FM Nikos Dendias conditionally agreed to invitation by his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to visit Turkey’s capital Ankara on 14 April, saying: “We hope that it will lead to finding common ground for resolving the only bilateral dispute we have with Turkey, namely the delimitation of the [Exclusive Economic Zone] and the continental shelf in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean”. NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg 4 March said: “We must avoid going back to the 1990s” when “similar tension resulted in casualties and aircraft crashes”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrel 8 March said: “The relative calm we are currently experiencing at sea in the Eastern Mediterranean and on settlement-related issues is fragile”. Leaders at European Council summit 25-26 March abstained from imposing sanctions against Turkey and pledged conditional progress to improve trade ties and cooperation on other issues. Despite ongoing exploratory talks between Athens and Ankara, numerous incidents during month led to irritation on both sides. Notably, Turkey 25 Feb-7 March conducted large-scale military exercises in undisputed waters combined with hydrographic research of vessel “Çeşme” in international waters in Central Aegean; six Saudi fighter jets 13 March arrived in Greek island Crete for exercises with Greek air forces, prompting Turkish President Erdoğan 12 March to criticise move, saying: “Saudi Arabia’s joint exercise with Greece has saddened us. We would not want to see Saudi Arabia make such a decision”. Meanwhile, in sign of thawing relations between Turkey and Egypt, President Erdoğan’s office 8 March said Turkey wants to turn new page with Egypt and Gulf countries and Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 12 March declared that diplomatic contacts between Turkey and Egypt had started; partial rapprochement could pave way for understanding on Eastern Mediterranean dispute.
Turkey and Greece prepared for next round of talks as fiery rhetoric and local maritime tensions continued. Following meeting between Turkish and Greek delegations 25 Jan in Turkish city Istanbul for “exploratory talks” on their disagreements in Aegean, after which both sides initially issued constructive statements, Greek PM Mitsotakis 4 Feb said talks likely to resume by end of Feb or early March ahead of EU summit scheduled for 25 March; Mitsotakis added “Turkey has to be consistent in terms of its behaviour, this cannot just be a decoy to avoid the discussion [around sanctions] at the EU council in March”. Harsh rhetoric and tensions between sides continued throughout Feb. During 8 Feb visit to Republic of Cyprus, Mitsotakis said that “end of the Turkish occupation and finding a viable solution [for Cyprus] are top priorities of Greek foreign policy”. Turkish President Erdoğan 10 Feb responded, “How can we continue our talks?” after “Mitsotakis targeted us once again”, and warned Athens that it “will come to know the crazy Turks” if its PM continued such language. Turkish Foreign Ministry 11 Feb strongly condemned Friendship Forum held same day in Greek capital Athens attended by Republic of Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, France and United Arab Emirates, claiming it was another sign of “hostility toward Turkey”. Ankara 15 Feb announced navigation advisory on hydrographic surveys held 18 Feb-2 March in international waters in central Aegean; Athens 21 Feb announced advisory announcing firing exercise close to Turkey’s announced survey area. Turkey 23 Feb said four Greek F-16s harassed Turkish research vessel near Aegean island of Limnos in international waters, which Greece denied. Separately, Turkish and Greek military officials 6 Feb met for ninth round of technical deconfliction talks under auspices of North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Greece and Turkey relaunched “exploratory talks” on their differences in Aegean Sea after almost five-year hiatus amid low-level military tensions. Following conciliatory messages earlier in month, Turkish and Greek officials 25 Jan met in Turkey’s capital Istanbul for first time since 2016 to launch 61st round of so-called “exploratory talks” on issues in Aegean; no details were revealed on content of talks but sides agreed to continue them in next round in Greece’s capital Athens in coming months. Prior to talks, differences surfaced over their scope: Greek PM Mitsotakis 13 Jan said Greece hoped talks would continue where they left off in 2016, focused exclusively on maritime delimitation issues, while Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 15 Jan said “there is no point in having these talks” if Athens does not want to discuss other issues, such as sovereignty over disputed islands. International powers welcomed dialogue: U.S. and UK 12 Jan expressed support and Germany 16 Jan called talks “important step” and “good news for the entire region”;German FM Heiko Maas 18 Jan visited Ankara and reiterated support. Despite Athens and Ankara 18 Jan holding military-to-military talks at NATO, some military tensions in Aegean continued throughout month. Notably, Greece 12 and 13 Jan held military exercises near islands of Limnos, Samothrace and Psara, prompting Turkey to call for islands to be demilitarised; Greece 14 Jan also held aeronautical exercise in disputed airspace south of Kastellorizo island. Ankara 16 Jan said Greek exercises both violated demilitarised status of islands and impinged on area in which Turkish navy conducted firing drills.
Tensions between Greece and Turkey cooled, raising prospect of resumption of exploratory talks. Tensions between Greece and Turkey tempered after Ankara late Nov withdrew its seismic survey vessel Oruç Reis from disputed waters, raising prospect that bilateral exploratory talks could resume. Following 10 Dec two-day summit, EU Council refrained from anticipated sanctions on Turkey and instead reaffirmed support for Greece and Republic of Cyprus, condemned Turkey’s “provocative” behaviour in East Med and stated positive agenda remained if Turkey “showed readiness… to resolve differences through dialogue and in accordance with international law”. In phone call with EU Council President Charles Michel on 15 Dec, Turkish President Erdoğan said steps by EU constituted “a new window of opportunity”, stressing Turkey’s intent “to turn a new page with the EU”. Meanwhile, military activities continued. Greece 13-15 Dec held military drills near the easternmost Aegean islands of Samothrace, Limnos, Chios, Samos, Tilos and Halki; Turkey 13 Dec responded with three advisory announcements for demilitarisation of these islands. Turkey 13 and 19 Dec issued advisories disputing Greece’s jurisdiction over airspace south of Kastellorizo, where Greek air force 15 and 21 Dec conducted aeronautical exercises. FMs of Cyprus, Greece and Jordan 8 Dec met in Jordan’s capital Amman to lay groundwork for establishment of permanent secretariat to facilitate regional cooperation. United Arab Emirates (UAE) participated for first time alongside France in joint Greek, Egyptian and Cypriot training exercises held 30 Nov-6 Dec off Egyptian coast. Egypt 17 Dec announced that UAE had joined the East Med Gas Forum as observer.
Tensions between Greece and Turkey continued amid ongoing Turkish exploration activity. Exchange of conciliatory diplomatic statements between Greek PM Mitsotakis and Turkish President Erdoğan following deadly 30 Oct earthquake off Samos island proved short-lived as Ankara 31 Oct and 11 Nov issued new advisories extending exploration activities of seismic survey vessel Oruç Reis in contested waters. Greek MFA 11 Nov condemned activities, saying they violated “international law of the sea and [are] undermining peace and stability in the region”; Turkish MFA same day responded that Greek statements were “based on Greece’s maximalist maritime boundary claims”. Greece and Republic of Cyprus continued to demand harsh EU sanctions against Turkish actions in eastern Mediterranean ahead of European Council summit scheduled for 10-11 Dec; EU Parliament 26 Nov passed non-binding resolution requesting EU leaders to “take actions and impose tough sanctions” on Ankara; Turkish MFA next day called parliament “disconnected from reality”. Turkey 30 Nov pulled back Oruç Reis after it completed exploration mission in disputed maritime zones south of Kastellorizo off the Turkish coast. Meanwhile, military exercises on both sides continued throughout month. During 11-12 Nov visit to Greece’s capital Athens, Egyptian President Sisi declared Egypt “will stand by Greece and in favour of its rights”. Defence ministers of Greece, Israel and Republic of Cyprus 12 Nov agreed to deepen military and security ties, specifically regarding joint training programs, intelligence sharing and cybersecurity. Greece and United Arab Emirates 23 Nov signed security agreement which includes mutual defence clause, obligating each country to help other if its territorial integrity is threatened. Egypt, Greece and the Republic of Cyprus announced plans to conduct joint military drills in eastern Mediterranean early Dec.
Tensions remained high between Greece and Turkey. Tensions in Eastern Mediterranean continued. NATO 1 Oct established deconfliction mechanism that includes hotline between Greece and Turkey for use in event of crisis. Greek and Turkish FMs 8 Oct met in Bratislava, Slovakia, and agreed on date to relaunch exploratory talks, but subsequent developments overshadowed positive step: Turkey continued with gas explorations in Greek and Republic of Cyprus-claimed waters while both Greece and Turkey continued to carry out small-scale military exercises, including in contested waters in the Aegean, throughout month. Ankara 9 Oct issued advisory for exploration activities east of Cyprus until 9 Nov. Tensions rose significantly after Ankara 11 Oct issued advisory for exploration activities of Oruç Reis drillship in Greek-claimed waters south of Kastellorizo. Greek FM 13 Oct slammed decision and said talks are not possible while drillship remains within “Greek continental shelf”; Turkish defence minister next day said Oruç Reis “is not a threat to anybody”. Turkish decision prompted German FM Heiko Maas to cancel trip to Turkey and 15 Oct condemn move alongside French counterpart, while U.S. State Dept 13 Oct said it “deplores” decision. In response, Turkish MFA 11 Oct published report accusing Greece of escalating tensions. NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg 23 Oct announced that Greece and Turkey decided to cancel military exercises planned for following week. Following 30 Oct earthquake in Izmir, Turkey, that killed at least a dozen and injured hundreds, Greek PM Mitsotakis same day telephoned Turkish President Erdoğan to offer condolences; Erdoğan same day thanked Mitsotakis, saying “that two neighbors show solidarity in difficult times is more valuable than many things in life”.
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