How Long Will the Aegean Sea’s Peaceful Summer Last?

 “You fight battles on the battleground. You don’t fight by saying, childishly, that international law is on our side. You challenge power by power.”

How sustainable will the Aegean Sea’s peaceful summer of 2021 prove to be? For Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the primary reason for peace in the Aegean has been the threat of further Western sanctions amid Turkey’s ongoing economic descent. But his election campaign for the 2023 race could drive him back to his bullying, aggressive self in terms of regional policy to consolidate conservative and nationalist votes.

Last summer, the Aegean Sea was in the midst of a dangerous tug-of-war. Turkey and Greece released one NAVTEX (navigational telex) after another. Ankara sent a survey vessel into the disputed continental shelf just 6.5 nautical miles off the Greek island of Kastellorizo. Turkish military figures suggested that Turkey could close the straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus to Greek and Greek Cypriot ships. And if that was not enough, in July 2020, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan converted Istanbul’s monumental sixth-century Greek Orthodox cathedral Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

As the standoff deepened, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis convened his national security council. A statement issued after the meetings was reminiscent of pre-war times. “We are in complete political and operational readiness,” Minister of State George Gerapetritis said on state television ERT. “Most of the fleet is ready to be deployed wherever necessary.” In one dangerous incident on August 14, 2020, two warships, the Greek navy’s Limnos frigate and Turkey’s TCG Kemalreis, collided in the East Mediterranean.

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