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The Greek-Turkish Standoff: A New Source of Instability in the Eastern Mediterranean

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Since 2011, Eastern Mediterranean affairs have mainly been marked by instability due to the civil wars in Libya and Syria. Recently, a new source of tensions further perplexes the situation—the Greek-Turkish standoff. Currently, Athens and Ankara disagree over sovereign rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. Specifically, they both claim rights in maritime zones which have not yet been delimited. The nature of the problem is not new, dating back to November 1973. What is new is the breadth of maritime zones the two sides disagree upon. The attention has shifted towards the Eastern Mediterranean in the last ten years, while it had only focused on the Aegean Sea before energy discoveries were made in the Levantine Basin in 2009.

Greek-Turkish relations were relatively calm from 1999 until 2016. In 2002, Athens and Ankara launched the so-called “exploratory talks,” a format to exchange views on thorny issues informally. The 60th round of bilateral exploratory talks took place in March 2016 and was the last until now. After 2016, cooperation between Greece and Turkey continued—for example, on the management of the refugee crisis—but the latter employed a different foreign policy approach. Seeing the EU door almost closed and having to deal with the post-coup domestic priorities, President Tayyip Erdogan sought to strengthen his country’s regional role. He placed more emphasis on national security issues and was not hesitant to forge closer ties with Russia and China. He has lacked predictability in international affairs.

Eastern Mediterranean waters could not but come to Turkey’s interest when hydrocarbons were discovered in the Basin. Cyprus followed Israel in proceeding to explore and exploit some reservoirs, such as the Aphrodite field, in close collaboration with some international energy companies. Like any other sovereign country in the world with resources, it had the right to develop them. The Republic of Cyprus had already entered the EU in 2004, but the island remained divided after the Turkish military invasion of 1974. From the very beginning, Turkey disagreed with the practices of the Cypriot government and acted to protect, in its view, the Turkish Cypriot community. Such actions became bolder in 2018. Turkish vessels began researching and drilling in Cypriot waters, although the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus is grounded on international law. The reaction of both the EU and the U.S. was very mild. As a result, Turkish ships uninterruptedly continue their operations as of today. Having been disappointed with the EU’s stance, on September 21, 2020, Cyprus decided not to sign the list of European sanctions against Belarus unless Brussels moves to impose sanctions on Turkey over its violation of Cypriot sovereign rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.

August 2020 saw Turkey expand the same policy in regard to Cypriot waters, particularly maritime zones south of the island of Kastellorizo. The Turkish government sent the “Oruc Reis” ship to conduct research in disputed waters, according to the terminology of the American administration. It was accompanied by frigates causing Greece’s similar reaction. The research lasted for more than four weeks. On September 21, Ankara did not renew the relevant NAVTEX fueling speculation about its motivations. While maintenance reasons are officially presented as the main reason for the return of “Orus Reis” to the Antalya port, the decision is generally seen as a sign to diffuse tensions in view of the EU-Turkey summit of September 24–25, where the possibility of sanctions is likely to de discussed. Nonetheless, Turkey has declared the vessel could soon continue its mission.

The crisis is far from over. External mediators, namely Germany and the U.S., call for dialogue. Other partners such as Russia, China, France and the UK also advocate for a diplomatic solution. In principle, dialogue remains the only way forward. However, Greece and Turkey have completely different agendas. Turkey opts for negotiations without preconditions on a variety of themes. Experience from history—when the Aegean Sea was the epicentre of attention—shows Ankara is aware that international law would hardly favour its position, should talks only be concentrated on the delimitation of the continental shelf. The Turkish government endeavours to boost its argumentation by publicly talking about the geographic position of Kastellorizo, yet steadily combines other demands along with the proposed arrangement of maritime zones. Greece suspiciously sees this tactic.

Another reason for pessimism is that Turkey complements its position about future dialogue with Greece with some proposals on the island of Cyprus. Specifically, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has talked about the establishment of an equitable revenue sharing mechanism and other schemes with the participation of all parties, including the Turkish Cypriots. Whether the two themes, Greek-Turkish relations and the rights of Turkish Cypriot and perhaps a revival of talks on the Cyprus Question are to be linked, will be seen. As a matter of principle, Athens and Nicosia do not accept the participation of the Turkish Cypriot administration in any negotiations or meetings. And they both see the Cyprus Question as an international and European problem. Having said that, Greece and Cyprus raise provocative Turkish actions in the Eastern Mediterranean at the EU level, whereas Turkey prefers direct negotiations on outstanding issues. Despite this alignment, Athens does not negotiate on behalf of Nicosia.

So, where are we? NATO “deconfliction” talks are continuing and Germany is pushing both Greece and Turkey to engage themselves in new exploratory talks. The most delicate part of the task is not to talk about the need for dialogue but to make dialogue a success before a new military crisis occurs. Russia has also offered to mediate if asked, as the problem is an area of concern for the American administration and NATO first. From a Greek perspective, good ties between Russia and Turkey are a thorn in Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s initiative to mediate. Of course, this can also be a blessing in disguise. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis decided to publicize his interest in holding a telephone conversation with President Vladimir Putin at the end of July, while important meetings between Greek and Russian officials took place in recent days. Foreign Ministers Dendias and Lavrov regularly talk to each other. Greece strives to achieve balance between its clear foreign policy choices and the difficult but possible rewarming of ties with Russia, acknowledging the rising role of the latter in the South.

From our partner RIAC

Ph.D., Fellow at the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (BESA), Director of EU-China Programs at the Centre International de Formation Européenne (CIFE) and Lecturer at the Democritus University of Thrace

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Defense

Could a maritime chain hub between US-Japan-Viet Nam-India to tackle China?

Gitanjali Sinha Roy

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The rise of China in the last few years has been a cause of concern and as China grew economically, it strengthened its claws in the realm of defense and has been expanding its paws into the territories of other countries which is a violation of a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Chinese aggressiveness has become the bone of contention and this is a serious matter of concern for all the countries who are facing the China threat. China’s need to dominant certain trade routes; sea-lanes of navigation and communication jeopardizes the concept of a free and open navigable sea route which is unacceptable as no one country completely owns any sea-lanes and routes of trade and communication. Therefore, in order to protect the national interest and freedom of navigation of many countries, this article tries to build an argument on could there be a possibility for a formation of a maritime chain hub consisting of Guam, Okinawa, Cam Ranh Bay and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which could tackle China’s maritime aggressiveness.

Guam, a former Spanish colony and now one of the 17 non-self-governing territories of the United States of America. Guam has been a military asset since the World War II as the U.S. moved its military aircraft.  Also, during the Viet Nam War, Guam was a major asset in the Pacific as it was a base used by the Americans. Presently, it serves as a major military base for America and has the U.S. Air Force and Navy installations and is also a major hub for the submarine communications cables between the western United States of America, Hawaii, Australia and Asia. There is a huge military presence in Guam and the United States of America moves its military assets and personnel to Okinawa, the Japanese island.  Guam as a naval base port plays a rather important part as it is home to the four nuclear-powered fast attack submarines and two submarine tenders. Also, Guam has the Andersen Air Force Base which hosts the Navy helicopter squadron and Air Force bombers and along with this has two-three kilometers runways and also caters as a storage facility for fueling purposes.

In June 2020, the U.S. Naval Base Guam has been designated as a ‘safe haven liberty port’ and the U.S 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge(LCC 19) and the USS Bunker Hill(CG 52) have been placed here and eventually, on 24 June 2020, the Nimitz Carrier Strike group which consists of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN68), Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Sterett (DDG 104) and the USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) all placed in the safe haven liberty port in Guam. This move to make Guam a safe heaven liberty port should be seen from the perspective of a potential logistical re-supply, possible repairs and a safe place where the sailors could rest and rejuvenate themselves amidst the global Coronavirus pandemic. One needs to understand that Guam needs to be militarized to ensure that North Korea doesn’t attempt any form of attack on Japan which is under the Security umbrella of the U.S. and also, Guam which is an American territory needs to protect itself from North Korea it is in a feasible striking distance and so, this military buildup in Guam by the United States of America is justified.

Japan’s Okinawa is strategically very important for the United States of America as it is a vital component in America’s grand strategy towards the region of East Asia.  Also, the geographical location of Okinawa has a greater meaning as Okinawa is placed between the Philippines, East China Sea and the South China Sea and also the neighbourhood consists of China, Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula and of course the mainland Japan which is a sure game-changer. Okinawa makes an important military outpost, protects the freedom of navigation and the American national cum security interests which inevitably help in the stability of this region. The bases at Okinawa are of geostrategic value as it deals with a fairly flexible range of positions to counter any potential threat and so, help keep interests of Japan safe especially with regard to the Senkaku Islands and the presence of America at Okinawa is a clear deterrent for China incase it tries to create any provocation. Also, South Korea is in an alliance with the United States of America and so, Okinawa also acts as a critical component in dealing with North Korea and in order to maintain peace in this region, the American marines plays a vital role as protectors. Also, for Taiwan, the presence of American forces at Okinawa helps Taiwan from China’s threats. Therefore, Okinawa plays the role of a major game-changer in the region of East Asia.

Viet Nam’s Cam Ranh Bay has always been a melting point of strategic interest since the 19th century as it was a hub of continuous positing of countries like France, Russia, Japan and the United States of America where their navies were stationed well as the Cam Ranh Bay acted as an excellent protected natural harbour along with being a refueling station. The geostrategic location of Cam Ranh Bay is near the South China Sea and this is therefore called the ‘Apple of the Eye of the East’ as it can help contain Chinese aggressiveness in the region. Also, the Japan-Guam-Australia Fiber-Optic Submarine Cable System Project is being developed with the help of Japan and the United States of America. Cam Ranh Bay if redeveloped could the most valuable asset that Viet Nam has.

India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands is as of today one of the most sort after strategic hub of islands as it is being developed into a maritime and startup hub and the recent inauguration of the submarine optic fiber cable between Chennai and these islands would change the face of digital connectivity. India has also proposed transhipment hub in the Andamans helping these group of islands become a major centre for blue economy and maritime cum startup hub. Also since 2019, the Indian Naval Air Station-INS Kohassa has been developing the island in full swing and this could well become a vital strategic outpost for India  and can easier watch and monitor the rival navies activities along with set an integrated surveillance network.

The question is how does Guam-Okinawa-Cam Ranh Bay-Andaman and Nicobar Islands form a strategic maritime chain hub?

First, Guam is an American territory, Okinawa, a Japanese territory, Cam Ranh Bay, a Vietnamese port and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian group of islands and so, all these countries are a part of the Quad and this Quad grouping is believed to tackle China’s aggressiveness.

Second, all these countries have excellent relations with another and aim for stronger strategic relations. Japan is in a Security Alliance with the United States of America and Japan is India’s all-weather friend. Due to Japan as a common friend between India and the U.S, they too have excellent strategic partnership with one another. Viet Nam and the United States have been developing relations and are working towards becoming strategic partner. Japan’s relations with Viet Nam has been a major part of their ASEAN relations and separately too, Japan has been working on strengthening stronger relations with Viet Nam and in fact, the first visit of Prime Minister Suga is to Viet Nam which highlights Viet Nam’s importance for Japan. India also has wonderful relations with Viet Nam and Viet Nam being the ASEAN Chair in the times of pandemic has played a vital role in medicine, rice and mask diplomacy and has created its niche as a vital and understanding partner in the ASEAN along with evolving as a regional and a global partner in the Indo-Pacific region.

Third, all these four countries are facing security concerns with China.  China has off late made several advances in the East China Sea, South China Sea and the Indian Ocean and all this has impacted the United States of America, Japan, India and Viet Nam as their geostrategic locations are of prime importance to these countries. China has been making aggressive claims in these waters is a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the US, Japan, India and Viet Nam.

Fourth, Japan has been the pioneer of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific region aiming for a rules-based order so as to have the freedom of navigation and access to sea-lanes and routes to all the nations. After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy at the 196thSession of the Diet in January 2018, this strategy was soon adopted by the United States of America and India. ASEAN too adopted this strategy which meant that Viet Nam too has accepted this strategy. Many believe that this Indo-Pacific Strategy is to tackle China’s aggressiveness.

Fifth, Japan’s initiative of the Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure is aimed to promote infrastructure and development cooperation among the countries could also pave the way for port infrastructural development among thee US, India and Viet Nam.

Therefore, keeping in mind, the above-mentioned arguments could well pave the way for a possible formation of a maritime chain hub consisting of Guam, Okinawa, Cam Ranh Bay and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which could tackle China’s maritime aggressiveness.

The views expressed are personal

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Hidden Traces in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Сonflict

Dr.Basel Haj Jasem

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From a geographical perspective, the location of the Azerbaijani city of Tovuz, which witnessed penultimate clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia in July, proves that the recent clashes had nothing to do with the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, as it is far from the Azerbaijani territories occupied by Armenia.

The city of Tovuz is located near the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline, both of which are gates for Azerbaijan to transport its oil and natural gas, the so-called “Caspian Sea wealth,” to Turkey, Europe and other global markets.

A Blow to Russian Interests

The location of the attack or the clashes indicates that they were against Turkish-Western and Turkish-Azerbaijani interests. Nonetheless, they are also a blow against Russia’s interests and role in a region of great geopolitical importance for Moscow and other international and regional players who are worried by the state of consensus emerging Between Ankara and Moscow in Syria. Attempts are being made to repeat such consensus in Libya, with foreign media having reported headlines addressing the new “front” between Moscow and Ankara in this context.

Paris believes that the missile attack (in the first months of 2018) launched by the U.S., Britain and France in Syria created a rift between Russia and Turkey, who have different views on some issues, especially in Syria. French President Emmanuel Macron said this in a televised interview.

It is no secret that the Western attacks in Syria at that time sought, among other things, to cause a rift in relations between Russia and Turkey. Thus any disagreement between Moscow and Ankara is in the interest of the West, so the West will continue to exert pressure on the points of difference between them.

Barely hours after Moscow and Ankara announced the beginning of a Russian-Turkish agreement regarding Libya weeks ago, Macron told reporters on July 23 that “in this part of the Mediterranean, which is vital for our countries, energy and security issues are essential…The issue is related to a struggle for influence, especially by Turkey and Russia, which are asserting their presence more and more, and in the face of this, the European Union has so far done little.” He continued, “It would be a grave mistake to leave our security in the Mediterranean in the hands of other parties. This is not an option for Europe, and this is something France will not let happen.”

Russian-Turkish Rapprochement

The rapprochement with Turkey was a positive event for Russia, especially in light of the sanctions imposed by the West on Moscow after the Ukraine crisis. The Astana process was a kind of compromise, a success for both Moscow and Ankara, and Syria turned into a stage for an exciting reconciliation between the two. This coincided with the coldness of their relationship with the West.

The increased economic cooperation and growth of trade volume are beneficial for both Ankara and Moscow, which both need it. The deals signed, including a nuclear plant and a gas pipeline that will allow Moscow to gain independence from Ukraine and export its gas to Europe via the Black Sea and Turkey, all are steps of good cooperation.

The handover of the Russian S-400 system to Turkey is also a matter of pride and sovereignty for the latter, which feels the West’s betrayal of it on several issues. This includes membership in the European Union, Washington’s support for the Syrian extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) (classified on NATO’s terrorist lists), and the extradition of Gulen.

However, all of the above does not mean Ankara has turned its back on the West, as the strategic partnership continues, despite the current rapprochement with Russia imposed by geopolitics and economy.

Trying to Feel For a Pulse

Amid the exchange of accusations between Baku and Yerevan about igniting the recent clashes, whoever started it is targeting Moscow first, and secondly, torpedoing the rapprochement that is likely to develop between Russia and Turkey. It may be in the context of an attempt to feel for a pulse, see if Moscow will adopt a new position on this conflict that has extended since the end of the last century. This is especially after the recent political developments, with the new government taking office in Armenia maintaining a Western policy.

Moscow is aware that Armenia needs Russia more than Russia needs Armenia, yet a fallout would mean losing one of its back gardens in the former Soviet yard. This may affect Russia’s long-term influence and ability to manoeuvre, imposing its opinion as an international power in the global arena in general, and in the former Soviet space in particular.

Russia needs Armenia, a traditional ally, in the Collective Security Organization and other regional economic alliances, as well as in light of the Georgia-Russia conflict. Moscow also needs Azerbaijan, a country that occupies an important geopolitical position.

Moscow and Baku are linked in many areas of joint cooperation, from cross-border security and energy to the exploitation of Caspian Sea resources and transport projects. The Kremlin does not want to turn Azerbaijan or Armenia into Georgia or Ukraine again, so Moscow will not push Baku away, thus allowing foreign powers to push Russia out of the region.

In fact, one would find that Russia is allied with Armenia, and there is a state of partnership with Azerbaijan, with Moscow playing a mediating role (acceptable to both sides) in settling the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

From our partner RIAC

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Germany continues to expand its military presence in Lithuania

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The German Air Force is setting up a Deployable Control and Reporting Centre (DCRC) at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania, supplemented by additional sub-elements at Skede, Latvia and Ämari, Estonia. German soldiers are preparing to augment the static CRCs at Karmėlava, Lielvarde (Latvia) and Tallinn (Estonia) and support situational awareness for the airspace in the Baltic region. Subdivisions of the DCRC are also deployed in Skede (Latvia) and Amari (Estonia).

The German Air Force Control and Reporting Centre are closely connected with the other Baltic CRCs and NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany, to help control NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission and demonstrate interoperability.

Germany is Lithuania’s principal ally and a cornerstone guarantee of security and stability in Europe. The Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Lithuania and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany concerning Temporary Stays of Members of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Lithuania and the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Germany in the Territory of the Other State was written in the summer of 2020.

Germany is also an active participant of the NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltic States and delegates officers to the NATO Force Integration Unit in Vilnius.

Germany is the framework nation of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battle Group deployed for deterrence and defence purposes in Rukla since early 2017, and has the largest portion of troops there. A Mechanised Infantry Brigade of the Lithuanian Armed Forces was affiliated to a German Bundeswehr Division in 2018.

Generally, the Baltic States are now on the front line of the increasing tension between NATO and the Russian Federation. In order to lure the NATO and American militaries into their territory, the Baltic governments compete in propaganda, day and night broadcasting message about the “hand of Moscow” that allegedly threatens them.

Further positioning of NATO forces in the Baltic region could spark inadvertent escalation. NATO’s joint forces and its subsequent efforts to keep the Baltics by massive force deployment would irritate Moscow.

Russia might escalate the situation and even could use nuclear weapons. In addition, Ambiguous Nuclear Doctrines in NATO’s and Russia’s nuclear policies create the potential for deliberate escalation.

Thus, a potential conflict between NATO and Russia could provoke not only the use of conventional weapons, but also nuclear weapons.

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