Border disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean has intensified since the discovery of large reserves of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. This episode was triggered when Turkey sent a research ship, escorted by warships, into waters disputed with Greece and Cyprus.
An infographic illustrating the disputed waters. Source: BBC
The dispute arises from their overlapping claims over the Eastern Mediterranean. Backed by the EU, Greece claims that each of its inhabited islands has a continental shelf, and thus a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) where Greece has exclusive right to drill. Turkey says that is an unfair interpretation of international law, and in response, formed a bilateral agreement with Libya setting down their EEZs. Greece then signed a counter agreement with Egypt, claiming that the agreement between Turkey and Libya violates the Law of the Sea.
How Cyprus Complicates Things
Today, Cyprus is divided into the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This is the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974, following a Greek-backed military coup in Cyprus. Even though Turkey is the only country that recognises North Cyprus, Turkey insists that any energy agreement signed by Cyprus is illegal if North Cyprus is not involved. The unresolved status of Cyprus makes reaching any agreement over the large reserves of oil and gas difficult.
In response to the collision of Turkish and Greek naval ships while the Turkish research ship was escorted, Turkey announced live-fire military drills to be held off the coast of Cyprus. Greece responded with rival navy exercises with fellow EU members France, Cyprus and Italy. France also deployed its nuclear aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, to patrol the Eastern Mediteranean.
Additionally, according to Die Welt, Turkish military sources were quoted as saying that Turkish President Erdogan issued orders for his generals to sink a Greek warship without casualties, which were refused, followed by the suggestion to down a Greek aircraft. However, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has denied the claim.
On 3 September, NATO announced that Greece and Turkey have agreed to hold technical talks on the de-escalation of the Aegean Sea dispute. However, this was denied by Greece on the same day while Turkey announced that Russia will hold naval exercises in the disputed waters.
It remains to be seen whether cooler heads will prevail or if attempts at negotiations will fall through.