Hot conflict evaded – so far

Hot conflict evaded – so far

The sudden resignation of the Greek prime minister’s national security adviser two days ago continues to stir discussions as to whether the Mitsotakis government has been effective in managing the latest crisis with Turkey. Or, as the opposition parties are claiming, “It is running behind Turkey trying to catch up without a specific policy” on how to deal with its most problematic neighbor.

Vice-Admiral Alexandros Diakopoulos was Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ personal choice one year ago for the newly created post of national security adviser when the New Democracy politician won a landslide electoral victory.

The entry and the continuing presence of the Turkish Oruç Reis research vessel in the disputed waters of the eastern Mediterranean has been a hot potato for the Greek government. In spite of repeated statements by Turkish officials that the ship is inside an area which Turkey considers its own continental shelf and has already dipped streamers into the sea to conduct research, the Greek side fervently claims that the area falls under its jurisdiction, meaning the Turks are breaking the law. The length of the seismological cables has also become a disputed issue, as the official Greek line – as reported by most Greek media – has portrayed the whole Turkish exercise as “fake research with a few meters of cable.”

So Diakopoulos’ reply during a TV interview challenged the official view when he said, “It did conduct research; let us not fool ourselves. The Oruç Reis did make a practical challenge.” This was not something that Mitsotakis would have liked to hear from his close adviser, especially at this particular time.

For the official Greek opposition, Diakopoulos’ resignation was just a confirmation of their own thesis that the government lacks a serious policy on how to deal with Turkey. “The reason for the resignation of Diakopoulos is simple. He told the truth and revealed Mitsotakis’ lies on the so-called ‘non-existent’ research activities of the Oruç Reis,” Syriza commented.

But there was also another important statement by Diakopoulos regarding a mild collision of Turkish and Greek frigates last week of which both sides have been telling conflicting stories. Diakopoulos confirmed that it took place between the frigates Kemal Reis and Lemnos, but he blamed the Turkish frigate for moving “awkwardly” and hitting the Greek frigate, causing damage to the hull of the Kemal Reis.

The presence of the Oruç Reis in the area south of Antalya, north of Crete and west of Cyrpus has resulted in a sizable number of Greek and Turkish warships monitoring each other. An accident like that could have easily developed into a major incident given the hostility between the two sides. Greece has frantically tried to gather support from friends old and new and rustle up solidarity from its fellow EU member states. However, beyond the verbal condemnation of Turkey’s “illegal” and “provocative” presence in areas that Greece considers to be under its own maritime authority, Greece’s European partners have preferred not to proceed with any practical measures against Turkey. A summit about Turkey has been postponed until the end of September.

Until then, though, an initiative mediated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that was interrupted when Greece signed an exclusive economic zone agreement with Egypt may go back onto the table. What is clear is that, although they may differ in the intensity of their rhetoric, neither side, for its own reasons and plans, wants the issue to escalate into a military confrontation. They both know that somehow they have to sit and talk over their problems – one or many – and try to find a modus vivendi in the area.

A sign which might indicate where things will go might be the 23rd of August, the date when the Oruç Reis’ research period will theoretically end.

Ariana Ferentinou,