NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced on Friday in Brussels that Greece and Turkey plan to cancel their respective war games, which had been scheduled for next week on the national holidays of each other’s country.
The move was seen as an encouraging sign that tensions were beginning to ease somewhat between the two allied NATO nations, whose naval forces have come head to head in the last months in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Both Greece and Turkey have decided to cancel military exercises which were planned for next week,” Stoltenberg told reporters after emerging from a videoconference between NATO defense ministers. Officials from Greece and Turkey made the official announcement of the cancellation during the meeting.
The NATO chief added hopefully that “These are steps in the right direction, they help to reduce the risks of incidents and accidents.”
After months of provocations by Turkey which have included sending oil and gas exploration ships to waters atop Greece and Cyprus’ continental shelves and the redrawing of maritime boundaries in the east Mediterranean, the Turkish Foreign Ministry accused Greece recently of planning military exercises in the Aegean to coincide with Turkey’s national day celebrations.
In turn, Turkey then announced that its military would also undertake exercises on Oct. 28 — the Greek national holiday of OXI Day.
Stoltenberg told the press that he hoped the cancellation of the exercises would effect a positive influence on the ongoing efforts to ease tensions between the two countries in the eastern Mediterranean — a process which is being helmed by Germany.
Tensions were at an all-time high earlier this summer when Turkey sent its ship the Oruc Reis, accompanied by its own naval svessels, into waters between Crete and Cyprus. That episode came to a head when a Greek Navy ship rammed the stern of a Turkish naval vessel in what was termed an unavoidable accident.
More recently, the Oruc Reis was accompanied by two other oil and gas- exploratory ships as it once again made its way into waters atop Greece’s continental shelf.
However, NATO has ameliorated tensions somewhat by helping Greece and Turkey devise a system which allows them to avoid such accidents at sea. This reportedly includes a hotline between the two countries, and talks are ongoing in an effort to broaden the safeguards of the system.
Greece and Turkey have also agreed that they will once again take up exploratory talks which are aimed at building mutual confidence and resolving disputes between the two historic rivals. Such discussions were last held between representatives from the two nations in 2016.