Turkey is conducting an unprecedented three-sea naval drill, the largest in its history. This is also the first time Turkish air and ground forces have taken part in a military exercise on this scale.
The four-day Mavi Vatan (“Blue Homeland”) 2019 drill, involving 103 navy ships, began on Wednesday in the Black Sea, Aegean Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean simultaneously, giving Turkey a chance to show off its recently-upgraded fleet, which includes over a dozen assault boats and frigates in addition to corvettes, mine hunting boats, patrol boats, and submarines. Turkish-made Bayraktar and ANKA drones and jet fighters will also participate. The drill was planned six months ago, in accordance with NATO regulations.
“Nothing at all can be done in the Mediterranean without Turkey,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced last week. “We will not allow that,” he emphasized, reporting that Turkey would begin drilling for oil and gas near Cyprus with two new exploration ships.
Large gas fields were recently discovered in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.
The move is expected to inflame regional tensions with Greece. In addition to the ongoing dispute in Cyprus, Athens and Ankara have also butted heads over the ownership of a group of islands in the Aegean – reviving a 20-year-old dispute – and a contested 10-mile strip of airspace, creating a sticky situation for NATO.
Turkey also irked the alliance by announcing on Tuesday it had signed a deal to purchase S-400 missile defense systems from Russia, despite US efforts to persuade them to buy American-made Patriots instead. The persuasion attempts reportedly extended to threats of sanctions, as well as warnings the Russian system was incompatible with NATO’s existing missile defense systems.