Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' top national security advisor stepped down on Wednesday after suggesting that Greece conceded ground to Turkey in their ongoing face-off over offshore energy prospecting rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Alexandros Diakopoulos said his comments — which he had later retracted — “caused confusion and created a problem” for Mitsotakis and his centre-right government, “which was not my intention.”
Over the past 10 days, Greek and Turkish warships have been shadowing each other between the island of Crete, southern Turkey and Cyprus, waters where Turkey sent a research ship to look for potential undersea gas and oil deposits. Turkey and Greece are historic regional rivals and nominal NATO allies.
Greece says it has exclusive economic rights on much of the seabed Turkey is surveying, and demanded that the Turkish government withdraw the 'Oruc Reis' research vessel and its naval escort. Ankara refused to do so, arguing it has every right to prospect there and in waters claimed by Cyprus.
Diakopoulos embarrassed the Greek government by saying in a TV interview that the Turkish ship had been able to conduct research — contradicting the official narrative that Greek naval ships deployed to the area had prevented any real work from being carried out over the country's continental shelf.
Greece's main opposition Syriza party contrasted the national security advisor's comments with the government's contention that any attempt to breach Greek sovereignty would trigger a harsh response.
Mitsotakis has balanced tough talk with a desire to avoid starting a military confrontation with Greece's much bigger and more heavily-armed neighbour. The prime minister has also focused on drumming up support from EU partners and other regional countries.
Despite the concentration of naval units around the 'Oruc Reis,' tensions have not escalated uncontrollably. Nevertheless, Greek state ERT TV reported on Wednesday that a Greek and a Turkish escort frigate collided last week after the Turkish vessel left its position and suddenly cut across the bow of the Greek ship on its right — which hit it close to the stern.
ERT published a picture apparently showing a long vertical crack near the Turkish frigate's stern, and said the Greek vessel was undamaged. There were no reports of injuries on either ship.
Both sides initially kept quiet about the alleged collision. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made later comments that seemed to allude to it, suggesting that his country had responded to an incident involving the 'Oruc Reis.'
Greece has not made any official comment.