18th Jan 2021

EU leaders discuss Turkey's air and sea 'provocations'

  • Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels on Thursday, before she was forced to leave the summit and self-isolate (Photo:

EU leaders will discuss the latest flash-points in Turkey's confrontation with Greece on Friday (16 October), as Germany hardens talk of sanctions.

"I will provide information about the new provocations by Turkey," Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said at the opening of an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday.

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"Turkey remains consistent in its ... aggressive behaviour," he added.

The EU summit was originally meant to cover Brexit, climate, and Covid-19 only, Mitsotakis noted.

But Greece pushed to add Turkey at the last minute "although it was not on the agenda," he said.

Greece, earlier the same day, accused Turkey of trolling the Greek foreign minister when he was flying home from Iraq, by declining him access to Turkish airspace and forcing his plane to circle in the air for 20 minutes.

"It is one more provocation in Turkey's series of provocations," Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said.

"The incident with the Greek minister of foreign affairs' government plane (hazed while in the air) is a ... further escalation," Giorgos Koumoutsakos, a Greek deputy minister, also said.

"It has special political and diplomatic significance, as Turkey knew this move would be discussed at today's EU summit," he said.

Greece was already furious that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had sailed his petro-exploration flagship, the Oruç Reis, back into Greek-claimed waters on Wednesday, the eve of the EU leaders' talks.

If Friday's debate yields fresh criticism, it is not designed to spur immediate action.

EU leaders, earlier this month, gave Turkey until December to mend its actions toward Greece, as well as Cyprus, which has similar grievances, or face sanctions.

And Germany, the EU presidency, had hoped that a Greek-Turkish "dialogue" might bear fruit.

But Berlin hardened its line as EU leaders assembled in Brussels, cutting the sanctions deadline to one week.

"It's been twice that expected discussions [between Greece and Turkey] have not taken place and we don't know when they will happen," German foreign minister Heiko Maas said in Paris on Thursday.

"We must wait to see if there is progress in a week and then we'll see what attitude needs to be adopted by the EU," he said.

"It's clear to us that Turkey is permanently carrying out provocative acts which are unacceptable," France's foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also said.

Previous EU sanctions on Turkey were limited to two executives from the Turkish Petroleum Corporation - Mehmet Akalin and Ali Namoglu.

But any new listings are likely to be more painful, after Cyprus secured a pledge on tougher measures in tense EU negotiations last month.

Flight plan

For its part, Turkey says Greek and Cypriot maritime claims are unjust and violate the rights of Turkish Cypriots.

Turkey also said it held up the Greek foreign minister's flight for technical rather than political reasons.

"The plane in question took off from Iraq without presenting a flight plan. When the plane entered our airspace, a flight plan was urgently requested from Iraqi authorities, and the flight was safely carried out after the plan was received," Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said on Thursday.

Turkey is an EU accession candidate and Nato member.

It is also holding back millions of mostly Syrian refugees from trying to enter Europe.

But relations continue to plumb new depths, as clashes with Turkey multiply, including on conflicts in Libya, the South Caucasus, and Syria.

Referring to Turkey's military backing for Azerbaijan in its recent warfare with Armenia, France's Le Drian said: "What we can see today is the only country which isn't calling for respect of the ceasefire is Turkey and that's damaging."

"There will not be a military victory on this issue, so the ceasefire must be implemented," Le Drian said.


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