00:23 GMT +321 October 2016
    NATO's ship Bonn en route to the Aegean Sea.

    NATO Aegean Patrols Expose Deep Divisions Between Athens and Ankara

    © AP Photo/ Ingo Wagner
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    In an effort to step up sea patrols to stem the flow of migrants making their way across from Turkey to Greece, pressure has been put on NATO to deploy ships to the Aegean Sea, which has now put it on a collision course with both Athens and Ankara.

    Neither Turkey nor Greece have been able to contain their extensive sea borders and pressure was put on NATO to begin patrols. However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has admitted the move puts it at the center of a diplomatically sensitive issue.

    There is considerable animosity between Greece and Turkey dating back centuries, but most recently centered on Cyprus, where — in 1974 — Turkey occupied a third of the island in response to an Athens-backed coup aimed at annexing Cyprus to Greece.

    Turkey refuses to acknowledge the Republic of Cyprus (an EU member since 2004) as the sole authority on the island, and recognizes the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus since its establishment in 1983.

    This has been a major sticking point in the question of the accession of Turkey into the EU as a full member. Another is a dispute over territorial sea limits between the two nations. Erdogan's position on the Kurds — as well as the continuing crises in neighboring Syria and Iraq are exacerbating the situation.

    Reconnaissance Only

    "Our ships will be providing information to the coastguards and other national authorities of Greece and Turkey. This will help them carry out their duties even more effectively to deal with the illegal trafficking networks," Stoltenberg said in a statement.

    "We are also establishing direct links with Frontex, the European Union's border agency. We will conduct our activities in the Aegean Sea. Our commanders will decide the area where they will be operating, in coordination with Greece and Turkey. NATO vessels can deploy in the territorial waters of Greece and Turkey.

    "Greek and Turkish forces will not operate in each other's territorial waters and airspace. NATO's task is not to turn back the boats. We will provide critical information. To enable the Greek and Turkish coastguards, as well as Frontex, to do their job even more effectively," Stoltenberg said.

    The details of his words are important. Since the NATO operation will not involve turning back migrant boats and Turkish vessels will not cross into Greek sea areas and Greece will not operate in Turkish waters, the situation is stalemate. Migrants know no boundaries. 

    With Greece loudly complaining about a lack of EU assistance in dealing with its growing migrant problem — and the closing off of its northern borders — with little ability to actually patrol the whole Aegean Sea on its own, the situation for Athens is impossible.

    Turkey has come under severe criticism for failing to impose border controls under a US$3.35 billion EU program and has seemed unwilling — so far — to strengthen its land or sea military assets, it too looks likely to be unable to stem the maritime migrant flow.

    If neither Athens nor Ankara have the capability to deploy assets into the Aegean and NATO declaring it will not turn boats back, it is highly likely the Aegean will continue to be a free-for-all.

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    NATO military presence, refugee crisis, ships, sea, navy, human trafficking, migrants, NATO, Frontex, European Union, Jens Stoltenberg, Aegean Sea, Europe, Turkey, Greece
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    • Mystic-One
      Could the refugee "Problem" have been an excuse to position NATO(OTAN<<Look this word up) forces in the Aegean Sea using the model of the Haegalian Dialectic? Moscow could use their diplomats to secure a defense pact between Russia and Greece with the possiblity of shared use of military sea ports.

      Greece has a reason to be angry with Turkey. Where is the Hagia Sophia, what is it being used for and how did it get to it's current state of ownership and conversion?
    • Panagiotis Brd
      The Aegean belongs to Greece and so does Constantinople . Soon the orthodox brothers shall meet there . There is no european turkish or nato law that has to do with that zone. It is greek territory under greek laws and every piece of it that has gone to turkish or other hands shall return. Cyprus is a free country and will have back under its control all the island and the rest of its zone . No turks are allowed anymore on this side of the line . They should be grateful to live on the land they have and stop pushing the boundaries .
    • sophm0e38
      The US appropriated the Nazi military model and came up with NATO, an organisation that compensates for the deficiencies of its members; in this case NATO acts as a plaster for serious tensions emanating from Turkey.
    • michael
      well, if it's diplomatically sensitive there's no point in stoltenberg being involved, or the rest of nato for that matter. Obviously they don't consider anyone outside themselves - much like the americans - as this antagonism has gone on for decades - centuries even...
    • Athanasios
      Foreign warships entered the Greek waters yesterday . The Canadian frigate HMCS-Fredericton was near the island of Lesvos, while the fleet's flagship FGS-BONN resupplied in the American base of Suda (Crete) and is headed towards the Central Aegean.
      This entry of the NATO fleet, which conducts operations in the CENTRAL AEGEAN, and not at the Greece-Turkey borders, is illegal. It has taken place without the approval of the Greek Parliament, and therefore it is an invading fleet.
      I would like to remind everyone that the purposse of NATO fleet is not to turn back any migrants boats, but to help Turkey establish a presense in the Greek Aegean, and at the same time block the Russian ships from exiting to the Mediterranean. (And from what I hear, Turkish ships have had a hard time with the Russian ships, so NATO comes to Turkey's rescue, as usual.)
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