Alwaght-Turkish armed forces began the largest naval exercise in the country's history on Wednesday, with 103 military vessels and thousands of troops conducting operations in three seas surrounding the country.
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 are also participating.
"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.
Over recent months, tensions have been building in the waters to Turkey's west with its neighbours Greece and Cyprus, as the countries vie over subterranean energy resources, particularly natural gas.
As part of the naval exercise, 13 frigates, 6 corvettes, 7 submarines, 7 minehunter vessels, and dozens of patrol and landing ships, along with military helicopters and drones, are conducting war games.
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.