Turkey seems to be moving fast and decisively in the region of the southeastern Mediterranean. The major Greek media have announced, quoting government sources, that the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea – part of the UN Office of Legal Affairs – will soon publish a map with the coordinates of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between Turkey and Libya, as declared in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Ankara and the Government of National Accord in Tripoli last November.
Greece’s Concern over Turkey-Libya Agreement Getting Official Stamp
Even though there has been no official confirmation on the above claim, the Greek side is quite concerned; such a development would legalize the agreement in several ways. The publication of the map with the coordinates of the MoU, will essentially formalize the maritime boundaries set by the bilateral agreement between Ankara and Tripoli; the aforementioned memorandum has been explicitly rejected by Athens, and it has been repeatedly described as an illegal document, by the Greek side.
According to the document, the major Greek island of Crete has a limited impact on the delineation of the EEZ of the two signatories, while Karpathos, Rhodes and other smaller islands of the Dodecanese hardly affect the EEZ agreement. Finally, the small island of Kastelorizo has no impact at all in the Turkish-Libyan map that will be allegedly published by the United Nations. Ultimately the document is minimizing the importance and sovereignty of the Greek islands, putting forward the controversial Turkish claim for that region of the Mediterranea. This supports the concept that the EEZ should be mostly defined by the continental territory of the country and the role of the islands should be marginalized, which is completely unacceptable to Greece.
The Timeline Thus Far: and a Series of Greek Foreign Policy Failures
On November 27, 2019, Turkey and the UN-recognized Government of National Accord in Libya signed the MoU drawing up the maritime boundaries between the two countries, and defining, among others the territory where energy exploration and exploitation could take place.
December 9, 2019, Greece’s permanent representative in the UN Ambassador Maria Theofili sent two similar letters to the President of the UN and the President of the UN Security Council respectively. The letters outlined the reasons why the Turkish-Libyan agreement violates the International Law and the UN Law of the Sea and should be rejected and condemned. Even though the document received attention and has been widely reproduced by the Greek media, it has not been published on the associated UN official website.
The developments confirmed that probably the Greek letter has not been taken into consideration by the UN side at all. It should be noted that two days after the Greek letter was sent to the UN the issue was addressed again during the daily press briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General. The UN Spokesperson, Farhan Haq, has repeatedly refused to characterize the Libyan-Turkish agreement as illegal. Haq simply confirmed that the Greek letter had been received and was being studied; however, Haq highlighted that the Secretary-General of the UN would not adopt the language of the letter and could not further comment on the validity of the MoU. Strangely enough, this development was hardly mentioned in the Greek media.
Greek Leadership Reacts to the Turkey-Libya MoU
Amidst this situation the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece have been making numerous public statements denouncing the agreement and questioning its force and impact. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated shortly after his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the London NATO summit, in December 2019 that “nobody is going to recognize this meaningless invalid document.” It seems that these pompous Greek statements have not been backed by the appropriate diplomatic action.
Turkey Ratifies MoU
On December 21, 2019, the Turkish parliament ratified the Memorandum of Understanding between Ankara and Tripoli, opening officially the road for further action from the Turkish side. On December 26, 2019, the Permanent Mission of Libya to the United Nations sent another letter to the Secretary-General, where the contentious Turkish claims were repeated by the Libyan side. The letter mentioned, among other things:
“It will be recalled that starting in 2004, Libya held four rounds of negotiations with Greece (…) which failed to produce any result because Greece insisted on defining its maritime jurisdiction vis-à-vis Libya on the basis of extremely small uninhabited islands of no legal significance. Greece insisted on drawing a median line based on those island outcroppings and refused to apply the principle of proportionality that is used internationally in such situations. (…) Greece completely disregarded the rights of Libya.”
On January 20, 2020 a summit about the Libyan crisis took place in Berlin; this was a summit where all parties involved participated under the coordination of the German hosts. Greece’s repeated requests to take part in the summit were not approved, further disgracing the Greek position.
Transferring Military Forces and the Confidence Building Measures Dialog
A seemingly unrelated incident on another Turkish open front should also be carefully examined. Last week, forces of the Turkish Army were moved from the Greek-Turkish land borders to Hatay Province, near Idlib, Syria, according to Turkish media. Even though no mass movement of military equipment has been reported — only four howitzer pieces have been confirmed so far by the aforementioned sources — such a decision indicates that Turkey is not particularly concerned about Greece. Ankara keeps pressing diplomatically to achieve numerous goals in the Aegean Sea and has set red lines when it comes to a potential Greek reaction. The casus belli threat remains on the table with regards to the expansion of the Greek territorial waters to 12 nautical miles; therefore, the Turkish side is confident that Athens will just keep responding ineffectively to Turkish provocations without proceeding to any determined or sustained diplomatic maneuver as a response.
In the meantime, a new round of Confidence Building Measures started on February 17 between Athens and Ankara. As Greek minister of Defence Nikos Panagiotopoulos stated, in order for these negotiations to achieve any positive outcome, both sides should adopt an attitude of understanding and cooperation. Considering the Turkish diplomatic moves and overall strategy in the Aegean Sea and the wider Eastern Mediterranean region so far, combined with the Greek inefficiency – or unwillingness – in terms of foreign policy and diplomacy to address those Turkish moves, we should highly doubt that the CBM process will bring any results whatsoever.