Turkey and Greece tensions over eastern Mediterranean Sea natural gas 

Turkish marine special forces (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

After reaching a peak in August, the tensions between Turkey and Greece, both of which are members of Nato, over natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean Sea have now entered a new phase, with both sides now willing to participate in diplomatic talks.

The sailing of a Turkish drilling ship, Oruc Reis, escorted with military vessels in disputed maritime territories to explore natural gas fields, led to fears of a direct military confrontation between Turkey and Greece in August. The French government, supporting Greece in this conflict, also carried out military exercises as a response to Turkey’s ambitions in the region – in particular, Turkey’s financial and military support to the Tripoli regime in Libya.

Geopolitical rivalry in the region, amid a process of deglobalisation, has for a long time been developing under the surface to determine the future of the hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The discovery of natural gas fields in Zohr, near the Egyptian coast, in 2015, created new opportunities for big energy companies to make huge amounts of profits. Eni, an Italian energy company, started extracting natural gas in 2017 and since then have made billions of dollars in revenue annually. Other energy companies, such as Total and Exxon, also have vested interests in the region.

The formation of EastMed Gas Forum, earlier this year, with the participation of Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Italy, to forge a closer alliance, left Turkey isolated in the region. Worried that they will not reap the economic benefits of natural gas and oil in the region, the Turkish government developed a strategy to widen its influence in the region even if that meant less confidence in the Turkish economy by international investors. (In the last two months, dollar/Turkish Lira parity has increased substantially from 6.87 to 7.71).

This, in part, is a reflection of neo-Ottoman policies of President Erdogan’s ruling party, AKP (Justice and Development Party) to become a regional power, both economically and politically. Through harnessing its military power, once again Turkey is diving into another adventure to try to make sure it is not excluded from the economic benefits of hydrocarbons for Turkish energy companies.

Blue Homeland’ doctrine, which was first developed by a Turkish admiral in 2006, to make a claim of over more than 462,000 square kilometres of maritime jurisdictional area in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, is also used in the quarrel with Greece.

Erdogan also signed an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) agreement with the UN-backed Tripoli government in Libya. This will create a zone in which Turkish drilling ships could carry out drilling activities, which would also potentially disrupt Greece’s ambitious plans to transport natural gas to Europe via Greek territory.

Turkey’s recent manoeuvres, therefore, are strongly opposed by the Greek ruling class. They challenge Erdogan’s plans by arguing that Turkey’s ‘Blue Homeland’ doctrine ignores the territorial rights of Greek islands near the Turkish coast. Greece also argues that the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) agreement they signed with Egypt makes the EEZ agreement signed between Turkey and Libya void.

Leaving aside the international sea conventions, which only aims to find a common ground between different ruling classes, both the Turkish and Greek government is using the conflict to advance the interests of the capitalist class while portraying the issue as a conflict between the Greek and Turkish workers, as they whip up nationalism.

From the viewpoint of the AKP government, this conflict is useful to reinforce the rhetoric that Turkey is surrounded by enemies and that is why Turks should all forget about the high levels of unemployment and inflation and instead focus on the tensions between Turkey and Greece, France, Egypt and so on. The Turkish elite talk about the need to unite to defend the “national interests”. The ‘social-democratic’ Republican People’s Party (CHP) supports Erdogan in this conflict. What they really mean by national interests is the interests of the capitalist class in exploiting natural resources and the working class, to make massive profits.

Even though many Turkish workers support Turkey in this conflict, from a nationalist point of view, there is a layer amongst the working class who hope that if Turkey is able to extract natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean Sea it will lead to lower energy bills.

Given the economic crisis and the complete mismanagement of the economy by Erdogan, according to official statistics, natural gas prices have increased by 34.7 percent and electricity prices have increased by 32.5 per cent over the last year.

Big companies reap benefits

Although Erdogan is not a reliable representative of the capitalist class, he does generally speaking serve their interests. If Turkey does extract natural gas – and now they have begun preparations to extract it in the Black Sea – it would only be big companies which would reap the benefits.

This is also the case in Greece. The capitalist government in Greece, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is making the working class pay for the capitalist crisis through cuts and privatisations. Any fossil fuels extracted from the eastern Mediterranean Sea will be exploited to serve the interests of big businesses.

While the diplomatic talks between the Greek and Turkish ruling classes are ongoing, it is important to hammer home the point that the conflict in the eastern Mediterranean Sea is a result of the geopolitical rivalry between Turkey and Greece to reap the economic benefits of the hydrocarbons, as they compete to become an ‘energy hub’ in the region.

This conflict is one of the many examples of how capitalist rivalry only leads to conflict and war – a socialist change is needed to democratically plan resources based on the needs of the overwhelming majority and the environment.

Building mass workers’ parties in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, with a fighting socialist programme, would tip the balance towards the working class. By putting clear class demands, such as no to a capitalist war, and for the nationalisation of energy companies under workers’ control and management, as a step towards a socialist planned economy, would bring Greek and Turkish workers together in the struggle for socialism.

 

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