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Rising Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean
Rising Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean

Rising Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean

A virtual Crisis Talks event with panellists navigating the topic through three important lenses: Turkey-Greece tensions: views from Ankara and Athens; EU and US roles and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean; and regional dimensions of energy competition and disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Overview

The Eastern Mediterranean has always been an area of important political and cultural developments, dense migration, but also a hotspot of international tensions. The past decades have been no different: the region remains a bridge for trade between Europe and Asia, whereas geopolitics have divided the island of Cyprus, and more migrants crossed the waters to escape hardship.

The most recent additions include the findings of natural gas and the internationalisation of the Libyan civil war. In combination with political shifts, these developments sparked a new escalation between Turkey and its neighbours, namely Greece and Cyprus. After reaching a peak in 2020, the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean have most recently decreased and international actors hope to return to a more constructive partnership.

While the two camps are publicly hesitant to compromise, a new escalation is in no party’s interest. The conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean is multidimensional, and the quest for a sustainable and holistic solution will therefore need to include perspectives from different fields and origins.

Panellists navigated the topic through three important lenses:

  • Turkey-Greece tensions: views from Ankara and Athens. Turkey and Greece returned to talks after tensions in 2019-2020, when Ankara sent seismic research ships to waters contested with Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, intervened in Libya’s civil war and signed a maritime delimitation deal with Tripoli. But talks could break down again, as long as Ankara and Athens stay locked in a cycle of brinkmanship, with Turkey becoming bolder in lodging claims for sovereignty over eastern Mediterranean waters, and Greece becoming increasingly assertive in forging ties with regional partners to hem Turkey in.
  • EU and US roles and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s rivals have increasingly aligned with Greece over competing sovereignty claims. Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood after 2011 angered the new Egyptian government and the UAE, in particular. In December 2019, Turkey signed a maritime delimitation deal with Libya’s UN-recognised government and also sent military advisers to aid the Tripoli government in its fight with adversaries in eastern Libya, backed by Egypt and the UAE. The delimitation agreement led Greece to conclude its own overlapping deal with Egypt, prompting the UAE to side with Athens. The issue has also fed into Turkey’s deteriorating relations with the U.S.
  • Regional dimensions of energy competition and disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean. Ankara harbours ambitions to act as an energy hub for Europe, and wants both to avoid its continued dependence on Russian gas and to ensure Turkish Cypriots a share of future gas revenue. Excluded from plans by Cyprus, Egypt, Israel and Greece to run a pipeline to Europe, Ankara has increasingly taken unilateral actions, provoking militarised responses by Greece and other European actors such as France, whose energy companies are also interested in the region.

Interventions were followed by a Q&A with participants.

Speakers

Alissa De Carbonnel, Deputy Program Director for Europe and Central Asia, Crisis Group.
Charles Ellinas, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council. 
Riccardo Fabiani, Project Director, North Africa, Crisis Group. 
Ioannis Grigoriadis, Senior Research Fellow, Head of Turkey Programme, Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy. 
Berkay Mandıracı, Analyst for Turkey, Crisis Group. 

Moderator: Hugh Pope, Director of Communications and Outreach, Crisis Group.

This event takes place within the framework of a project co-funded by the European Union (EU) under the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), and managed by the International Crisis Group.

Rising Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean (Online Event, 8th July 2021)