2020 was the most acrimonious year for Greek-Turkish relations since 1974. Here we review the key events that led to the fallout:
January 2: signing of an agreement on the East Med pipeline
Greece, Cyprus and Israel have signed an agreement to build the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline which will transport natural gas 1,900 km from the Eastern Mediterranean basin to the European market. It is estimated that the pipeline will cost 7 billion euros ($ 8.53 billion) and carry 10 billion cubic meters per year, expandable to 16 billion cubic meters per year. This is a major irritant for Turkey, which sees it as an attempt to exclude it from the region’s energy windfall.
January 30: Turkish ship enters disputed waters
The Turkish seismic study vessel Oruc Reis entered Greece’s exclusive economic zone southeast of Karpathos for about 24 hours, testing Greek reflexes. He was watched by the Greek frigate Nikiforos Fokas.
February 27: Turkey opens borders to refugees bound for Europe
Turkey has announced that it is opening its borders to refugees bound for Europe, triggering the biggest refugee crisis in five years. For two weeks, Turkey gave free passage on the country’s buses and trains to refugees traveling to the Greek border. Meanwhile, Greece says it has withstood more than 42,000 attempts to enter the land border and an unknown number at sea. Turkey has released footage of the Hellenic Coast Guard preventing boats full of refugees from reaching Greek waters. As of March 9, Greece had registered 2,164 successful crossings, including 313 by land and 1,851 by sea.
April 15 – May 11: Refugee crisis intensifies, both sides strengthen borders
Greece has informed Turkey that it is extending its border fence over the Evros River to protect its border against further refugee crises. On May 11, Turkey warned Greece against intrusions on Turkish soil. Both sides sent reinforcements to the borders, highlighting the tensions.
June 9: Greece signs an EEZ agreement with Italy
Greece signed an exclusive economic zone agreement with Italy, which had been under negotiation for four decades. The deal follows the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), granting the Greek islands a full EEZ – something Turkey does not agree with.
July 13: Greece raises the issue of sanctions against Hagia Sophia
Greece first raised the issue of sanctions against Turkey at the EU General Affairs Council for converting the Church of Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias also warned his EU counterparts that Greece could invoke the mutual defense clause of the EU Basic Treaty (Treaty on European Union, Article 42) during the summer. Turkey had threatened to conduct oil and gas exploration activities on what Greece considers its continental shelf under international maritime law (UNCLOS).
July 21: Turkey issues warning over eastern Mediterranean
Turkey has issued a navigational telex warning to further explore what Greece sees as its exclusive economic zone, sparking a full deployment of the two countries’ navies across the Aegean Sea and into the eastern Mediterranean.
August 6: Greece announces EEZ agreement with Egypt
Amid attempts to restart exploratory talks with Turkey, Greece announced an exclusive economic zone deal with Egypt. This angered Turkey, as it covered the same body of water that Turkey had shared with Libya the year before, in a deal that the US and EU denounced as irregular. The Greece-Egypt Agreement follows the Law of the Sea, allowing the Greek Islands to become an EEZ. Turkey called off exploratory talks and announced live fire exercises in the eastern Mediterranean.
August 12-13: Frigates collide, France strengthens its presence in the eastern Mediterranean
The Greek frigate Limnos and the Turkish frigate Kemal Reis collided in an apparent accident, damaging the latter. In response, French President Emmanuel Macron said he was temporarily bolstering the French military presence in the eastern Mediterranean amid growing tensions with Turkey.
August 26: Greece announces the extension of territorial waters
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis unexpectedly announced the imminent extension of Greece’s territorial waters off its west coast to the 12 nautical miles permitted by maritime law, sending a clear message of his intention to do the same in the Aegean Sea. Currently Greece claims six nautical miles.
August 27: Greek parliament ratifies EEZ agreements with Italy and Egypt
August 28: EU foreign ministers draft sanctions against Turkey ahead of EU summit
An informal council of EU foreign ministers in Berlin has agreed on a list of sanctions aimed at ending what they see as unauthorized Turkish drilling in the eastern Mediterranean. The sanctions, which began by targeting ships, companies and individuals involved in the provision of illicit drilling in the eastern Mediterranean and graduated to freezing EU disbursements to Turkey and bank credit from EU to Turkish companies, were to be activated by an EU summit on September 24.
September 3: the head of NATO intervenes
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg calls on Greek and Turkish representatives at a meeting to discuss mechanisms for de-conflict in the region. No such agreement has yet been signed.
September 10: EU members condemn Turkish actions
Seven Mediterranean members of the EU (Med7: Portugal, Spain, France, Malta, Italy, Greece, Cyprus) condemned the Turkish actions when they met in Corsica for their annual summit. The Med7 statement expressed “unreserved support and solidarity with Cyprus and Greece in the face of repeated violations of their sovereignty and sovereign rights, as well as Turkey’s confrontational actions”.
September 12: Greek Prime Minister announces first defense spending in over a decade
Mitsotakis announced Greece’s first defense spending increase in 12 years. Greece would immediately buy 18 Rafale fighter jets of the fourth generation to replace its 43 Mirages-2000 fighters and two used frigates. In the medium term, it would order four new frigates and modernize its four new MEKO-type frigates, replacing an aging fleet of 13 frigates with 10 new and improved ones. According to reports, this would effectively double Greece’s defense procurement budget to € 1 billion per year.
October 2: Europe says it will reconsider sanctions, Turkey says it will occupy Varosha
The European Council invited Turkey to negotiate a delimitation of the continental shelf with Greece. He offered sticks and carrots – sanctions if Turkey does not comply, against the customs union if it continues. The council said it would reconsider sanctions against Turkey by December.
On the same day, Erdogan announced that Turkey would occupy Varosha (Famagusta), the ghost town in eastern Cyprus by Turkish troops seized in August 1974, which the UN has repeatedly ordered them to return to the Republic of Cyprus. (UNSCR 365, 367, 541, 544, 550).
October 15: Russia enters, alongside Greece
Russia has announced that it is reversing its policy on the Aegean Sea and looked favorably on Greece extending its territorial waters off its islands there to 12 nautical miles. Such a decision would allow Greece to control more than 70% of the Aegean Sea. Russia also called on Turkey to demarcate its EEZ with Greece in accordance with international law.
October 25: Greece, American ties seem strengthened
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told parliament that Greece and the United States were about to begin “almost immediately a new dialogue for the expansion of the mutual defense cooperation agreement or for to reach an entirely new agreement ”.
November 18: Greece and UAE sign strategic alliance
Greece and the United Arab Emirates signed a strategic alliance in Abu Dhabi, which includes cooperation in the fields of economy, tourism and defense.
December 10-11: European summit does not sanction Turkey
The EU summit does not impose sanctions on Turkey, disappointing Greece and Cyprus and postponing the issue until March.
December 14: United States sanctions Turkey
The United States Congress has passed sanctions against the presidency of Turkish Defense Industries, a branch of the Department of Defense, overturning Donald Trump’s presidential veto.
Compiled by John Psaropoulos in Athens