Turkish navy to hold its biggest military exercises as tensions soar with Greece, Cyprus

Turkey’s navy is preparing to hold its biggest ever exercises in a show of military muscle-flexing amid increasing territorial tensions with neighbouring Greece and the divided island of Cyprus, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Dubbed the “Blue Homeland,” the drills will see frigates and destroyers deployed to the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Mediterranean, where they will be joined by warplanes and army units between Feb. 27 and March 8, Anadolu said.

The drills arrive as Ankara is planning to dispatch a second drilling ship to areas around Cyprus later in February.

Cyprus has been split between a Greek Cypriot administration in the south, recognised internationally as the government of the whole island, and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot government in the north recognised only by Turkey.

Turkey has made clear its intentions to drill in areas in the west of the divided island, in spite of protests from the Greek Cypriot and its allies. Some of the areas explored by Turkish vessels lie in the Cypriot state’s claimed exclusive economic zone which has caused increased tensions between Ankara and Athens. While the dispute in the eastern Mediterranean over gas explorations on offshore Cyprus continues, both Turkey and Greece have been stepping up their own surveying and drilling efforts.

“We are not going to allow any unilateral hydrocarbon activities in the east Mediterranean,” Bloomberg quoted Turkish military spokesman Major Sebnem Aktop as saying in Ankara on Tuesday. “No project that is excluding Turkey and the Northern Turkish Cypriot Republic has a chance of surviving.”

Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez has said the second drilling ship will enter Turkish waters around Feb. 20.

Ankara has promised to stop what it sees as unilateral moves by the Greek side of the disputed island to exploit the potentially rich waters amid an ongoing standoff.