Turkey seeks de-escalation in East Med - analyst

Turkey has turned to de-escalating tensions in the eastern Mediterranean due to the changing U.S. administration and pressure from the European Union for sanctions, analyst Hasan Selim Özertem said on Thursday in an article he penned for the Balkan Insight news website.

After a five-year hiatus, Turkey and Greece resumed exploratory talks last month in an attempt to avert further military escalation in the eastern Mediterranean.

A December summit among EU leaders discussed whether to impose sanctions on Turkey and tasked the bloc’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell with preparing a report on the approach to take at the upcoming summit in March.

Resuming the exploratory talks has de-escalated the tension in the region and eased the political pressure on Ankara, Özertem said. “We reaffirm the importance of contacts with Turkey in order to move forward and consolidate dialogue,” he cited Borrell as saying.

Changes in the United States’ political landscape have also triggered changes in Turkey’s position, he added.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar proposed a solution to the crisis that emerged after Turkey purchased S-400 missile defence system from Russia, based on the standoff between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey over the deployment of S-300 missile systems in Cyprus in the 1990s. Akar’s proposal was seen as a signal of compromise, according to Özertem, while Washington was uninterested.

Turkey is seeking damage control to avoid further damage to its economy over the eastern Mediterranean issue, and expects to turn a new page in its relations with the EU, Özertem said. “Rather than facing new sanctions, Ankara expects to see improvements in the spheres of the revision of the customs union and on visa liberalisation,” he said.

Turkey also wants a fresh start with the White House, “considering the EU intends to coordinate with Washington before reshaping its policy towards Turkey”, Özertem said.

While exploratory talks were a chance to restart constructive dialogue in the region, both Turkey and Greece continued to invest in their military capabilities, he said.