Jun 07 2019

U.S. official compares naval near collision to Turkish activity in Aegean, East Med

U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan compared a near-collision of U.S. and Russian naval vessels to Turkey’s behaviour in the Eastern Mediterranean on Friday, Greek daily Ekathimerini reported.

The U.S. and Russian navies blamed each other after two warships, the cruiser USS Chancellorsville and Admiral Vinogradov, nearly collided in the Philippines Sea on Friday.

Shanahan said the near miss “was reminiscent of Turkish activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean”, Ekathimerini reported.

Turkey harbours a range of disagreements with its Greek neighbours in the two seas, and a Turkish coastguard vessel rammed a Greek coastguard vessel last year.

This and other incidents last year were provoked by the countries’ disagreements over maritime borders in the Aegean Sea, where both sides claim ownership of several islets.

Shanahan’s comments came on the same day the acting secretary welcomed Greek Minister of National Defence Evangelos Apostolakis at the Pentagon.

On the same day, Foreign Policy magazine revealed that Shanahan had sent a letter to Turkey’s Minister of Defence, Hulusi Akar, listing the tough set of reprisals Turkey will face if it goes through with its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems.

The United States has firmly opposed the deal, which it believes will pose a security risk to NATO hardware including the new generation F-35 fighter jets.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials have been tightening links with Greece and Cyprus as tensions continue to mount between Turkey and its neighbours.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer visited Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades this week to discuss lifting the arms embargo on the island and deepening security ties.

This year, tensions between Turkey and Greece have mainly stemmed from disputes over the rights to hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Greece is in partnership with the Republic of Cyprus to drill hydrocarbon deposits found around the island.

Turkey opposes the Greek Cypriot administration’s right to exploit the hydrocarbons, since it says this will infringe on the right of Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway Republic of North Cyprus to the island’s wealth. Ankara has also said a part of the exclusive economic zone claimed by Cyprus lies on its continental shelf.

Palmer warned Turkey “to refrain from illegal actions in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights”, according to press reports after the meeting.

Turkey has sent drillships to explore in areas covered in Cyprus’s EEZ, leading to a tense incident in May.