Greek Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos has rejected calls by Turkey to demilitarise 16 Aegean islands that were armed and militarised last week.
Following Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar’s statement last Friday that Greece had violated international law by arming the islands, Panagiotopoulos claimed that the islands were under threat from Turkey’s recent actions and policies in the region.
“Whatever is being threatened is not demilitarized,” Panagiotopoulos claimed on Saturday, adding that “Greece does not provoke, does not violate the sovereign rights of others, but it doesn’t like to see its own rights violated.”
Greece’s refusal to disarm and demilitarise the islands come amid increasing tensions in the region of the Eastern Mediterranean, which rose significantly throughout the past year due to Turkey’s dispute with Southern Cyprus over the distribution of energy resources in the waters off the island of Cyprus.
In June last year, Turkey deployed drilling vessels to search for natural gas in retaliation for a deal struck by Greece, Southern Cyprus, and Israel earlier that month, in which the three states agreed to build a pipeline harnessing the reserves of natural gas off the southern shores of the island. This pipeline names EastMed, which is estimated to produce a profit of $9 billion over eighteen 18 of the reserve’s exploitation, would be supplying gas from the Eastern Mediterranean region all the way to countries in Europe.
Turkey has called on those countries to participate in a fair and equal distribution of the energy resources discovered off Cyprus, insisting that they are attempting to exclude and alienate Turkey by striking their own deal without the consideration of both the major regional player and the people of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Therefore, it stresses that the drilling activities that Turkey is carrying out are legal and within territorial waters.
The EU, however, has repeatedly called on Turkey to give up its claim on having a share in the energy resources, claiming that its activities are “illegal”, leading the Union to impose sanctions on the Republic in July last year over the issue, as well as due to Turkey’s military incursion – Operation Peace Spring – into northern Syria in October.