Adept diplomacy needed
It came as no surprise. An opinion poll published this week in Greece showed that more than half of Greeks (54.6 percent) are “very much” or afraid “enough” of a “hot incident” with Turkey. Nothing unusual about that.
With so much military activity in the air and sea in the Aegean and east Mediterranean seas lately, with seismic searches and drilling going on around Cyprus and probably soon in the newly declared exclusive economic zone between Turkey and Libya, which lies east of Crete, any Greek would feel that “the Turks are coming.”
The fear of Turks became more apparent after recent events surrounding the civil war in Libya between the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez al-Sarraj and the forces of the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar. To be true, the war was going on at least since last April without anybody in Greece giving particular attention to it.
But it was when a surprise strategic move by Ankara signing two memoranda of understandings (MoUs) with the official Libyan government in Tripoli set a new parameter to the complex setting in eastern Mediterranean.
The two MoUs, one for maritime borders right next to several Greek islands including Crete and the second on strategic and security cooperation, put the six-month-old government in Athens in a position they would rather not be in.
Since the signing of the Turkey-Libya agreements, Athens embarked on a frantic diplomatic race to have the agreements annulled-especially on maritime zones - as it literally erased a large maritime area which it considered part of its own sovereign territory.
It secured sympathetic statements by the EU. But it was a risky choice to side with the anti-Turkish Haftar, that put Greece in the odd position to have to support a warlord who was seen by Ankara as a putschist invader and having to host him in Athens as an official interlocutor of Athens.
Things became even more complicated when the statements by Haftar and his military entourage to the effect that they would take over Tripoli in “a matter of days” proved premature.
In another surprise twist of diplomacy, a temporary truce hastily organized by presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin in Moscow could not persuade Haftar to agree to it, but a second attempt to secure a peace procedure initiated by Berlin and the U.N., with a wide representation of other regional countries, managed to halt the situation sliding into chaos.
At least for the moment. Greece, much to its frustration, was not invited to the Berlin Summit. The official explanation by the Germans was that the Turkey-Libya agreements were not part of the peace procedure in Libya.
With the Libya peace process somehow unravelling, today’s visit to Turkey by German Chancellor Angela Merkel should be seen in this context. Greece is left in suspension as to how it should proceed with its own worries; that is the serious challenge of the declaration of the EEZ by Turkey and Libya in areas that it considers as its own.
The new statements by Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar that linked the “illegal arming of 16 out 23 Aegean Islands by Greece, the ‘anomaly’ of six miles territorial waters and 10 miles air space” together with the confirmation that the Tripoli government is legal and the agreements that Turkey sealed are not against the law,” can only send the message that the coming period will require experienced diplomacy and skillful negotiations between Turkey and Greece, in order not to enter muddy waters.
Already, there was an indirect call for “sitting down and talking” by Erdoğan to Mitsotakis, according to reporters who followed him to Berlin, although it was not expressed in the most diplomatic way. Is Athens going to respond somehow? Maybe not immediately but there is a rumor that a government reshuffle is on the way in Greece and perhaps there will be changes at the Foreign Ministry level.