Turkey plans live fire Aegean naval exercises throughout March, April

Turkey is set to hold massive military exercises in the central Aegean Sea that will block the area off from marine traffic throughout much of March and April, the Greek Reporter news site reported on Wednesday.

Ankara has issued the warning around its exercises through a Navigational Telex, or NAVTEX, a standard means of broadcasting information to maritime vessels, said the Greek Reporter’s news article.

According to the NAVTEX, Turkey will block the area between the islands of Skyros, Psara and Evia for a military exercise involving live ammunition on Mar. 7, 8, 25-27, 28, 29 and Apr. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6-10, 24- 26 and 30.

Athens reportedly responded to the NAVTEX saying “Turkey cannot 'bind' regions in the Aegean for such a long time," and "the announcement serves political, rather than military, purposes.” The Greek Reporter did not cite a specific source for this response, to which it also attributes the promise of “a counter-NAVTEX notifying that it plans large military exercises of its own during the same period.”

The naval exercises would be a show of force by Turkey during a period of escalating tensions rooted old disputes around sovereignty rights over Aegean islands, as well as Turkey’s obstruction on gas exploration near Cyprus.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sparked serious concerns in Greece when he said last December during a visit to the Athens that the terms of the Lausanne Treaty, which set out Turkey’s borders in 1923, needed “revision.” Opposition leaders later that month tried to take advantage of the rising Turkish nationalist sentiment by demanding Turkey reclaim 18 Aegean islands “occupied” by Greece.

A series of incidents in the Aegean sea have followed, including an abortive attempt by the Greek defence minister to lay a wreath on disputed islets in January and a collision of Turkish and Greek vessels in February.

Last weekend Turkish authorities arrested two Greek soldiers who strayed across the border into Turkey while on patrol. A Turkish court refused to release the pair, who continue to be held on suspicion of espionage.