Turkey on Thursday extended its controversial Mediterranean gas exploration mission and ordered new navy drills as its row with Greece and France over energy and borders threatened to spiral out of control.
The Turkish navy said it was prolonging the stay of the Oruc Reis research vessel and its accompanying warships in waters claimed by Greece by an extra five days to Tuesday.
It also announced plans to hold “gunnery exercises” at the edge of its territorial waters in the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the shooting drills were not related to Turkey’s fight with Greece over access to newly discovered reserves that could offer Europe a vast new source of energy and cut its dependence on Russia.
But he also defiantly vowed to continue Turkey’s various exploration activities in the east Mediterranean region for “as long as they are needed”.
“We are determined to protect our rights,” Akar said.
Greece said Turkey’s decision to extend the seismic research work southeast of Crete underscored Ankara’s refusal to defuse the crisis.
“It is once again shown who wants a de-escalation and who doesn’t,” a diplomatic source said.
Athens called the continuing presence of the warship in waters claimed by Greece “unauthorised and illegal”.
The two NATO members have been staging rival war games in a conflict that could imperil Europe’s access to vast new energy deposits and also threatens to embroil war-torn Libya and other countries in the Middle East.
An increasingly agitated Germany said ahead of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on the crisis in Berlin that both countries had to end their naval manuevers if they really wanted a peaceful solution to the dispute.
“The preconditions for (direct negotiations) are that these manoeuvres in the eastern Mediterranean are stopped,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after completing a failed round of diplomacy in Athens and Ankara this week.