The sights of international observers of regional instability threatening to cause wider destabilization are once more focusing to our neighbourhood, just as the Balkans seemed to cool down somehow. The next area of dispute could well prove far more dangerous, since it may well lead to a serious flare-up.
Turkey started new seismic surveys in the Eastern Mediterranean with its research/survey vessel Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa in mid-October. Then, on October 29th, the day celebrating the founding of the modern Turkish state, it was expected to proceed to far more intrusive drilling operations with the drillship Fatih. Greek naval ships were close at the trail of Barbaros, prompting threatening reactions on part of Turkey.
The crux of the matter clearly resides on the extent and delimitation of EEZs/Exclusive Economic Zones at Eastern Mediterranean: if the Greek island of Kastellorizo and the islets surrounding it is considered to possess no EEZ (or continental shelf, for that matter), then Turkish claims would separate Greek zones from adjoining Cypriot and Egyptian ones.
Greece and Cyprus have already started negotiations with Egypt to that effect. Also, Greece supposedly prepared to extend its own territorial waters from 6 to 12 sea miles in less-contested regions (the Ionian Sea and South of Crete), starting an overall review of its strategy concerning sea zones - then back-tracked. The overall situation is fraught with suspense, since global players such as Exxon Mobil and TOTAL are close to start drilling both at Cypriot EEZ and in areas South of Crete.
So, even if saber-rattling comes to no real flare-up, a new nexus of instability is forming in the region. As has been often the case, the problem (as seen from Greek eyes) is how to make the rights and wrongs of the situation (as opposed to geopolitical balance choices) understood by international public opinion. The fact that Turkey has been seen for quite a time now as somewhat of a disturbance factor to stability (and a thorn at the side of the US) may be a dangerous lure for Greek policy-making. The shifts and turns of international politics can be abrupt – and the freeing of pastor Brunson has also freed the hands of Turkish diplomacy last week.