In an unusual turnabout, Turkey charged on Tuesday that Greek fighter jets had “harassed” its research vessel Cesme while it sailed in international waters in the Northern Aegean.
According to Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu, the charges were made by National Defense Ministry sources today.
The reports say that four Greek fighter jets approached the area and one of them dropped chaff cartridges two nautical miles away from the ship in an effort to defeat any radar-guided missile systems that the vessel may have.
Greece denied any forces in the area
The same sources told the Anadolu agency that Turkey accordingly “reciprocated the harassment.”
However, the Greek Defense Ministry sources completely denied that any of its aircraft were even in that area at present, stating that the Hellenic Air Force is not active at present in the area where the vessel Cesme is located.
The Defense Ministry acknowledged that training activity is ongoing several miles southwest of the area, near Limnos and Agios Efstratios in the Northern Aegean.
Ministry officials stated to the press that no Greek jets flew over the Turkish research vessel; thus there was no response from any Turkish fighters in the area.
The Turkish Defense Ministry had stated on Sunday that the Cesme has begun what it termed “hydrographic research” in the northern Aegean Sea, and that it will continue its work until March 2.
Official demarche lodged on February 19
The Foreign Ministry in Athens lodged an official demarche with Turkey’s Foreign Ministry through its embassy in Ankara on February 19.
The Cesme’s hydrographic survey is planned to take place between the Greek islands of Limnos, Skyros and Alonnisos from Thursday to March 2.
The navigational directive concerns international waters; however, Athens denounced it as invalid and illegal.
According to the Ministry’s spokesperson, Alexandros Papaioannou, the Izmir Station does not have the authority to issue Navtexes for the area in question.
Officials in Ankara said recently that the surveys by the vessel Cesme will be restricted to the surface of the sea, as the vessel will not lay its cables on the seabed.
The Cesme carried out hydrographic surveys in the same area in 2018 under the close monitoring of Hellenic Navy ships.
Analysts say the Turkish Navtex came as a surprise as the two Aegean neighbors are — supposedly — engaged in efforts to ease tensions and intensify their diplomatic contact.
Exploratory talks continue in March
Papaioannou also said that Greece has suggested dates for the 62nd round of the exploratory talks with Turkey, but has not yet received a response.
He added, however, that it will be held in the first week of March.
The 61st round of talks was held in Istanbul in late January after a five-year hiatus.
Turkish Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, a close associate of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that “it is possible to solve all problems.”
“Under the strong leadership of our President, it is possible to solve all problems, including the Aegean, and we have our will for this.
“Regional peace and stability is in everyone’s interest,” Kalin added.