TURKEY’S President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Greece against taking a ‘path to ruin’ as tensions simmer in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Fears have grown of a possible military conflict between the two countries as both navies made a show of force in the fiercely contested waters between Cyprus and Crete.
It comes amidst an extended diplomatic row after Turkey sent their Oruc Reis research vessel into disputed waters to survey the seabed for gas and oil on August 10, accompanied by Turkish warships.
But this sparked the ire of Athens, who responded by dispatching navy ships and announcing military exercises south of Turkey and on the Greek island of Kastellerizo – just one mile south of the Turkish coast.
Athens claims that the ship is operating over Greece’s continental shelf in an area where it has exclusive rights on potential undersea gas and oil deposits – prompting the country to send warships to track the Turkish flotilla.
Tensions were ratcheted up further as Turkey confirmed on Wednesday that its navy warships were conducing “maritime trainings” with a US ship in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In response to the growing crisis, Greece also announced yesterday that it would extend its territorial waters along its western coastline from six nautical miles to 12 nautical miles.
The planned extension would not affect the territory at the center of the Greek-Turkish dispute.
However, Turkey has previously warned that any extension of Greek waters to 12 nautical miles in the Aegean Sea would be perceived as a cause for war.
And yesterday, President Erdogan insisted that Ankara would not accept any concessions before resuming dialogue with Greece, such as suspending its gas exploration programme.
Mr Erdogan said: “Turkey will take what is its right in the Mediterranean, in the Aegean and in the Black Sea.
“Just as we have no eyes (on) anyone’s territory, sovereignty and interests, we will never compromise on what belongs to us. We are determined to do whatever is necessary in political, economic and military terms”.
He sniped at Greece: “We invite our interlocutors to get their act together and to avoid mistakes that will lead to their ruin”.
It comes as Turkey today said that will hold firing exercises in the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Iskenderun, northeast of Cyprus, on September 1-2.
Further NATO allies have also been dragged into the dispute, with France announcing it would join Greece, Italy Cyprus for joint naval exercises in the region.
And in a warning to Mr Erdogan, French Defence Minister Florence Parly insisted the Mediterranean should be a “shared asset”, and “not a playground for the ambitions of some”.
Turkey will take what is its right in the Mediterranean, in the Aegean and in the Black Sea
But Ankara lashed back, with Defense Minister Hulusi Akar responding: “To believe that it would be possible to thwart the Turkish Armed Forces operations with exercises and similar activities is nothing more than a pipe dream”.
The tough talk comes despite attempts by German officials to mediate the escalating diplomatic crisis.
Ahead of visits to Ankara and Athens on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted: “The conversation windows between Greece and Turkey must now be opened further — and not closed.
"In addition, instead of new provocations, we now finally need steps to relax and an initiation of direct discussions”.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said on Tuesday that Athens was "ready for dialogue" with Turkey, but insisted this was not possible "under threats".
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