Who will be believed in case a blame game starts?

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

It was just after Friday prayers – a moment with pious connotations even for an astute political operator – that Turkey’s President Erdogan explained/admitted that the Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel (parading for weeks in the Eastern Mediterranean over Greek continental shelf, with  assorted Turkish warships in its trail and an opposing Greek formation often in close contact – there was even a minor collision of a Greek frigate with a Turkish one) had been “pulled back” to allow for diplomacy with Greece”.

Earlier on, officials on the Turkish side said Oruc Reis had sailed back to Antalya “for routine maintenance”. Erdogan made it clear – Turkish FM Cavusoglu had done so earlier – that seismic surveys would resume in an undisclosed future; at the same time, survey vessel Barbaros and drillship Yavuz are operating east and southwest of Cyprus.

Such moves are clearly related to the EU Summit of September 24/25, where measures/sanctions against Turkey are supposed to be discussed for its behaviour in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean. Turkey had adopted until some days ago quite aggressive language (“They’re either going to understand the language of politics and diplomacy, or in the field with painful consequences” – Erdogan, two weeks ago).

But Athens – and Nicosia – were successful enough to corral support among their European partners for their tangle with Turkey; German Chancellor Angela Merkel is credited with bringing exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey closer. Meanwhile NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoldenberg, who had been close to “burn” technical talks of the two over a “deconflicting mechanism”, is back in work. Not to forget US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who paid an emergency visit to Cyprus and will most probably be in Athens end-September.

All of which is supposed to constitute a concerted effort to defuse a fraught situation. But, with conditions hanging over the Greek-Turkish talks, talks that now everybody seems to wait for – Turkey wants to put several issues on the negotiating table, Greece acknowledges only one dispute, continental shelf delimitation – the real question is: Who will be believed in case talks stall  a blame game starts?