Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on the European Union for dialogue, warning the bloc not to become a “tool for enmities” during escalating tensions over the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s deployment of a vessel to search for natural gas in waters claimed by Greece set off a fierce war of words between Ankara and EU member states, who early this month extended sanctions against Ankara for another year.
The measures included allowing visa bans and asset freezes against individuals involved in contested gas exploration in the Mediterranean. “We expect the EU to keep its promises, not to discriminate against us or at least not to become a tool to open enmities targeting our country,” Erdogan said in a video address to his ruling party congress on Saturday.
“We don’t see ourselves elsewhere but in Europe,” he added. “We envisage building our future together with Europe.”
Hours after Erdogan’s address, Ankara extended its mission in the Eastern Mediterranean until November 29, despite protests from Athens. EU leaders are to decide in a December summit whether to impose further sanctions over Turkey’s recent activity.
Dispute flared in August
Turkey’s exploration activities remain at the centre of the tensions. The dispute originally escalated in August when Turkey first sent exploration ship Oruc Reis into waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
Ankara said it withdrew Oruc Reis last month to allow for diplomacy between the sides. Turkey sent the vessel out again on October 12, prompting an angry response from the EU. Turkey has extended the duration of the vessel’s exploration multiple times since then.
Greece and Turkey dispute the extent of their continental shelves and their claims to hydrocarbon resources in the region. Athens says Ankara is breaking international law by prospecting in Greek waters and has been urging the EU to reconsider its customs union to punish Turkey’s “imperial fantasies”.
Turkey insists it is within its rights in the energy-rich Mediterranean region, saying not all Greeks islands are large enough to count when it comes to delineating the extent of Greek sovereignty. Concerns remain high over a potential military conflict between Greece and Turkey. Both have been carrying out manoeuvres in the region with frigates and fighter jets.
Turkey message to the US
In Saturday’s speech, Erdogan also said Turkey wanted to “actively use its long and close alliance relations with the United States for a solution to regional and global problems”. He was not among the first world leaders to congratulate US President-elect Joe Biden.
While Erdogan enjoyed close ties with US President Donald Trump, there have been tensions between the two countries over several issues.
Turkey’s purchase of a high-tech Russian S-400 missile defence system angered Washington, while Ankara has protested against the US refusal to extradite a Muslim religious leader and businessman, Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan blames for staging a failed 2016 coup.