Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who had claimed Greek territories, now says he’s questioning the sea borders between the countries and wants to redraw them.
“We are not prepared to negotiate away the national interest in the name of good neighborly relations,” Rama said, according to Kathimerini. “We have not pledged to keep our eyes shut when a problem, which we have not created or sustained, presents itself.”
Rama has been stepping up tension with Greece and his comment came a few weeks after the Albanian Foreign Ministry issued a formal warning to Greece’s ambassador in Tirana, Leonidas Rokanas, about Greece’s plans to search for hydrocarbon reserves in the Ionian Sea, which Albania said includes parts of its continental shelf.
Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Constantinos Koutras immediately fired back. “The political leadership of our friendly neighboring country is lapsing, in word and deed, every day,” he said.
“A return to the logic of, and to respect for, legality and international law is the surest path for Albania’s European perspective. No further comment,” he added.
Greece and Albania have long been at odd over continental shelf rights. They signed an agreement in 2009 creating an Exclusive Economic Zone but also settling maritime borders.
Albania’s Constitutional Court annulled the deal following action by then-opposition leader Rama, who was elected Prime Minister in September 2013 and has taken a nationalist hard line.
His talk came after Albania earlier in May issued a strongly-worded demand asserting claims to territory in Greece on the border between the two countries.
The demarche was delivered to Greek authorities over energy exploration, Kathimerini said, and demanded Greece revise its plans for hydrocarbon exploration in the Ionian Sea on the grounds it would encroach on Albanian territorial waters. It also requested Greek officials to make available land surveys of Epirus in northwestern Greece.
Speaking to Kathimerini, diplomatic sources interpreted the move as a clear bid to question the borders, even as FYROM presses international bodies to do an end-around on Athens to settle the name question between the countries.
With Turkey also having made encroachments with repeated violations of Greek air space with fighter jets, and sending warships past Greek islands, it appeared Greece’s neighbors were taking advantage of the government’s distraction with an economic crisis.
The sources told Kathimerini the moves are part of a growing nationalism to create a Greater Albania and claim lands in Greece where ethnic Albanians live, just as FYROM claims land around Thessaloniki and the city and port itself.
According to maps made public in 2011 by then-Energy Minister Yiannis Maniatis, surveys were to be conducted in a large area north of the town of Ioannina. There had been no official reaction from Tirana officials at the time.
Analysts said they believe Turkey is behind the move by Albania even as Greece is trying to better relations with Ankara.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Tirana with officials from the nationalist Party for Justice, Integration and Unity (PDIU) in May.
Diplomats told Kathimerini that the meeting was most likely aimed at rekindling an issue regarding the repatriation of Cham Albanians expelled from Epirus at the end of World War II following claims they had collaborated with the Nazis. Greece considers the matter closed.