Spurned Turkey Sends Warship to Watch Gas Drilling off Cyprus

Photo: Eurokinissi/Hristos Avramidis, File

After a warning was ignored, Turkey’s military said it sent a frigate in the eastern Mediterranean to monitor a drilling ship that is believed to have begun searching for oil and gas off ethnically divided Cyprus.

The energy search began after unity talks aimed at bringing the island together again after an unlawful 1974 Turkish invasion collapsed when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would never remove a standing 35,000-strong standing army in the northern third of the island that has been occupied for 43 years.

Turkey strongly opposes the drilling efforts by the Cypriots, insisting they infringe on the rights of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots to the island’s potential mineral wealth which Erdogan said must be shared with the occupiers even if found in Cyprus’ sovereign waters.

A brief military statement said the TCG Gokceada was “performing the task of monitoring the ship, West Capella, which is considered to be capable of drilling for the Greek Cypriot administration.”

With the French energy company Total in the consortium searching for oil and gas, France sent two warships to Cyprus to protect its interests as tension ramped after Erdogan issued a warning to international companies to stay out of the waters.

Turkey has threatened to take measures to counter, what it describes as, “unilateral” acts by the Cypriots, the newspaper Kathimerini said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey’s energy and foreign ministry were considering steps against Cyprus for moving ahead with drilling operations for natural gas, a share of which he said belong to Turkey.

Cavusoglu made his remarks a day after the West Capella drilling vessel, operated by France’s Total and Italy’s Eni, arrived in block 11 of Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to start drilling operations.

He said the ship’s arrival demonstrated the “insincerity” of the Greek Cypriots at the Cyprus peace talks which collapsed, a similar charge Greece hurled at Turkey which was charged with never wanting a peace deal and conducted fake negotiations as a ruse to keep its army.

Ironically, the hope for oil and gas was one of the reasons cited by optimistic international envoys as a reason why there would be a deal but when the talks fell apart Turkey said it wanted oil and gas money even without a unity agreement.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras – whose country, along with Turkey and the United Kingdom is a guarantor of peace on the island – made a rare statement after staying quiet, reportedly fearful he would irritate Erdogan and see Turkey unleash more refugees and migrants on nearby Greek islands.

Tsipras said Turkey’s stance  proves that “we are dealing with a neighbor who likes not to respect stability, cooperation and peace,” almost the opposite of what he had said earlier i praising relations between Greece and Turkey.

Greece, Tsipras said, will continue on its path of dialogue and a positive agenda, but at the same time, be prepared “to defend our sovereign rights.”

Behind Tsipras’ newly-found fervor, Greece jumped into the fray with both feet as he used a metaphor to answer a reporter’s question about Turkey’s fury.

“An effective guard dog is one that doesn’t bark; a good guard dog doesn’t need to bark … We, therefore … don’t bark too much, but I believe that we effectively defend the country’s sovereign rights,” he said.

Referring to the failed unity talks at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana, Tsipras said Turkey doesn’t respect international law, changing his tune from his previously cordial talk about Erdogan.

Greece blamed the breakdown on Turkey’s insistence to insist on a right for further military intervention on Cyprus when it wants and to keep its army there in violation of international law, which it has been allowed to do for 43 years.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)