Turkey announces East Med naval exercises despite NATO agreement

(Updated with Turkish announcement of naval exercises)

Turkey issued a navigation telex (Navtex) on Friday evening announcing naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean for Oct. 27 and 28, hours after NATO said that the country and Greece had agreed on Friday to cancel military exercises in the Aegean Sea scheduled on each other’s national holidays on Oct. 28 and 29.

Ohi Day is celebrated by Greeks and Greek Cypriots on Oct. 28, while Turkey commemorates the founding of its republic on Oct. 29.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier on Friday he hoped that the cancelation of the exercises would have a positive effect on German-mediated efforts to ease tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, AP reported. Germany has been leading mediation efforts to de-escalate the two NATO allies’ dispute over rights to territorial waters and hydrocarbon resources in the region.

“These are steps in the right direction, they help to reduce the risks of incidents and accidents,” the NATO chief told reporters following the virtual meeting of NATO defence ministers

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar had told reporters that Turkey had “assessed the developments in the region and put forth a proposal (to cancel the exercises) as a show of good will”, and that Stoltenberg had “found this proposal to be very positive, and supported our view”.

Akar said his Greek counterpart Nikos Panagiotopoulos had also expressed support for Turkey’s proposal.

However, a statement issued by the Greek Defence Ministry said the proposal had come from Stoltenberg, and that Stoltenberg had “urged Turkey to refrain from continuing seismic investigations and to resolve any dispute under international law”.

According to the Greek ministry, in the meeting Panagiotopoulos “pointed out that as long as Turkey continues its provocative actions - which Greece is facing calmly, as well as with full operational readiness and determination - there will be no discussions”.

Panagiotopoulos “underlined Greece’s full respect” for the fundamental documents of NATO and the United Nations, “in contrast to unilateral and provocative actions by Turkey”.

“These actions highlight the unreliability of Turkey's intentions for dialogue, undermine the NATO de-escalation process and undermine the cohesion and unity of the Alliance,” Panagiotopoulos said.