France raises tension with Turkey by strengthening its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean | International

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The escalation of tension in the eastern Mediterranean has gone in recent hours from being one of the recurring skirmishes between Greece and Turkey to becoming a geostrategic clash on a European scale. The shipment, materialized this Thursday, of military reinforcements by France in the area to shelter Greece and Cyprus, the two EU partners militarily harassed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, turns the waters of the Mediterranean into a dangerous powder magazine . The High Representative of Foreign Policy of the EU, Josep Borrell, has called for this Friday an extraordinary meeting of foreign ministers to analyze by videoconference, among other matters, the dangerous deterioration of the relationship between the EU and Turkey.

Borrell arrives at the meeting convinced that the relationship with Ankara is essential and that dialogue should be the way to deactivate the numerous conflicts that have arisen in recent years between the EU and the Erdogan regime, in particular, the dispute over territorial waters. and the hydrocarbon exploration that pits Turkey against Greece and Cyprus. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also mobilized on Thursday to try to facilitate direct dialogue between Greece and Turkey, with telephone calls to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Erdogan.

But the steps of German and community diplomacy lag far behind the military strides made by the growing number of parties involved in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean. French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Wednesday night, after a conversation with Mitsotakis, "a temporary reinforcement of the French military presence in the eastern Mediterranean." The French move comes after Turkey sent a hydrocarbon exploration ship, escorted by military vessels, to waters near Cyprus.

"Turkey's unilateral decisions on oil exploration cause tensions," Macron accused in a tweet that he repeated in Greek, in case there were doubts on which side his military support falls. Erdogan replied this Thursday, warning against "the provocations of a country that does not have a coastline in the eastern Mediterranean but pushes Greece and the Greek Cypriots to take steps in the wrong direction."

The dialectic is translated, as the hours pass, in weapons. The French Defense Ministry indicated this Thursday that two Rafale planes that were in Cyprus carrying out military exercises will make a "stopover" at the Souda air base, Crete, and will remain in the area for several days.

Paris also recalled that the amphibious helicopter carrier is close to the area Tonnerre, which France has sent to Lebanon with emergency aid after the devastating explosion in Beirut last week. This ship was joined last night by the frigate Lafayette, which was supplied in Larnaca and "has carried out a maritime exercise with the Greek Navy."

Mitsotakis, in a televised address to his country, warned Wednesday night about "the risk of an accident occurring with so many naval forces gathered in a limited area." Erdogan, for his part, warned that "the passage of any foreign ship that does not have a permit will not be tolerated" because of what he considers his "maritime zone".

The tension in the Mediterranean has led Borrell to call an extraordinary meeting of the EU's foreign ministers. The meeting, by videoconference, is scheduled for three in the afternoon on Friday. And in it, they will also analyze the other sources of turbulence in this agitated month of August, such as the situation in Lebanon after the devastating explosion in the port of Beirut; the repression in Belarus after the alleged electoral uproar on Sunday; and the situation in Venezuela ahead of possible elections in December.

The issue of the Mediterranean, community sources acknowledge, is the one that causes the most division among community partners. All agree in supporting Greece and Cyprus against possible interference in their sovereign territory. But there are discrepancies over the response to Erdogan.

France, Greece and Cyprus are leading the request for a tightening of sanctions against Turkey, which began in February with the veto of entry and freezing of assets to two executives of the Turkish oil company TPAO for their involvement in prospecting in waters belonging to Cyprus.

Other European partners, such as Germany, Italy or Spain, advocate avoiding an escalation of retaliation that could bring the relationship with Turkey to a point of no return. Along the same lines is the High Representative for Foreign Policy. "You cannot go against geography, whatever happens, Turkey will always be a main player in the eastern Mediterranean, a neighbor of Europe and an important partner," Borrell said after his last visit to Ankara to maintain a round of contacts that They were trying to channel the situation and that they have been overwhelmed by the events of this tense month of August. For his part, the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, held a conversation with the Turkish leader on Thursday in which, according to community sources, he reminded him of the positions of the EU, which are of total solidarity with Greece and Cyprus, and highlighted that direct dialogue between the parties is the best way to resolve disputes.

Asli Aydintasbas, a specialist in the field at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) study institute, advocates following the path outlined by Merkel and Borrell to reach a kind of "great bargain" with Turkey. Aydintasbas believes that the negotiation should cover “from the situation in Libya to that of Syria, through an agreement to share the energy resources of the Mediterranean in a way that benefits the two communities of Cyprus (the Greek part, which belongs to the EU, and the Turkish-Cypriot, protected by Ankara).

The ECFR analyst acknowledges that "Turkey will never be an easy partner, but it is very important for the EU in areas such as migration, energy, security, counter-terrorism." Aydintasbas sees a distancing like the one that occurred with Putin's Russia after the Crimean invasion unlikely "because Turkey is a member of NATO and, in theory, a candidate to join the EU."

France, in theory, accepts the mediation of Germany, which has the support of Spain, according to the Elysee in its statement on Wednesday. But the tension between Paris and Ankara has not ceased to increase throughout the summer. On one side is Libya, where the two countries support different sides and Macron has repeatedly accused the Erdogan government of having a "historical and criminal responsibility" in that country.

In June there was an unprecedented – and dangerous – incident between the two members of NATO when France, which is participating in the maritime security operation in the Mediterranean Sea Guardian, formally accused Turkey of having ordered two of its frigates to interpose and even point their weapons to the French Courbet when it was about to control a Tanzanian-flagged ship that was suspected of being involved in smuggling weapons into Libya.

The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, this Thursday in Ankara. On video, Erdogan calls for dialogue to resolve tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.Europa Press | Video: Reuters

In addition, last month, the French president already criticized the Turkish "violation" of Greek and Cypriot sovereignty for the exploration of hydrocarbons in the area. “I want to emphasize once again the full solidarity of France with Cyprus, but also with Greece, in the face of violations of its sovereignty by Turkey. It is not acceptable that the maritime space of a Member State of our Union is violated or threatened. Those who do should be sanctioned, "said Macron after receiving his Cypriot counterpart, Nicos Anastasiades, at the Elysee.

That support has now been translated into a military reinforcement in the tense maritime zone that has provoked the indignation of Turkey, whose press accused France on Thursday of "seeking war." In a speech, President Erdogan also charged Macron and his visit to Beirut on Thursday, after which the Turkish leader says he sees "colonialist" intentions from France. "What Macron and company want is to restore the colonial order" in Lebanon, said the Turkish leader. "We are not interested in running after a photo or putting on a show," he added, according to Agence France Presse.

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