NICOSIA – President Nicos Anastasiades applauded otherwise timid European Union leaders who said Turkey should respect Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and not try to stop foreign companies from drilling for oil and gas, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the condemnation and said his country would press on.
Turkish warships have been positioned offshore and succeeded in keeping a drill rig from an Italian company licensed for energy exploration to reach waters in the EEZ that Turkey also claims, but US oil giant ExxonMobil had been able to begin operations nearby.
The EU has several states of concern when it issues press releases, ranging from concern to deep concern to grave concern but meeting with Erdogan at a critical meeting in Erdogan, they did not press him over Cyprus and instead hailed him even while Anastasiades and Greece said he has been increasing belligerence and rattling sabres in the Aegean.
Turkey has been trying for more than a decade to get into the EU even though it won’t recognize Cyprus, which is a member, and as Turkish-Cypriots continue to unlawfully occupy the northern third of the island after a 1974 invasion.
“For the first time there is an unprecedented strong condemnation of Turkey’s continuing illegal activity in the Eastern Mediterranean, which of course includes the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus,” Anastasiades told an oil and gas forum.
“I would like to express my satisfaction with the strong expression of solidarity by the EU,” he added even though it brought only what amounted to sneers from Erdogan who said he would send in his own energy research vessels to challenge Cyprus and the foreign companies permitted to drill in the same waters.
Last week the European Council said it “strongly condemns Turkey’s continued illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean… and underlines its full solidarity with Cyprus and Greece,” a press release that Erdogan ignored.
The EU called on Turkey to “cease these actions and respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources in accordance with EU and International Law,” but didn’t say it would suspend Turkey’s EU hopes nor do anything except issue a press release.
Instead, the EU said it would try to step up Turkey’s entry and would send another 3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) to help deal with three million refugees and migrants it wants kept there and not unleashed on Greek islands.
After the EU statement, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry fired back. “The statement that was issued contained unacceptable comments against our country that serve the interests of Greece and the Greek Cypriots,” spokesman Hami Aksoy told reporters.
Anastasiades had accused Turkey of “gunboat diplomacy” for “physically obstructing the Italian ship, reportedly on the threat of sinking it.
“These illegal acts and provocations not only undermine the interests and objectives of Cyprus, but also the EU’s strategy goal of achieving energy security and diversification of sources and routes,” said Anastasiades.
At the meeting, Erdogan, disregarding any criticism from the EU, said that “Turkey is against Greek Cyprus’s unilateral hydrocarbon activities in the eastern Mediterranean,” accusing the EU of favoring another EU country instead of Turkey.
“What we say is that southern and northern [Cyprus] should come together and decide to work with whichever international company they want. International law obliges this,” he said.
Erdogan has warned foreign energy companies not to “overstep the mark” in the Mediterranean after Turkey’s warships blocked the Italian drilling vessel on February 9.
But Anastasiades said he wanted to cooperate with Ankara.
“We mean business when we say we want Turkey as an ally. But not as one who is a troublemaker or one who is intervening with the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus.”
Erdogan has been stepping up his militant stance since reunification talks collapsed last July at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when he said he would never removed an army in the occupied territory and wanted the right to militarily intervene when he wanted.
Anastasiades said, “Turkey’s actions are aimed at achieving the country’s long-term goal of becoming an exclusive energy supply hub for the European Union… to control the natural gas supply from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe,” but that he’s still willing to restart talks even though Erdogan said they are a non-starter unless he keeps his army there.
He said Turkey’s argument about protecting the rights of Turkish Cypriots were “unfounded,” because the legitimate government is willing to share revenues from any potentially lucrative finds.
“We have repeatedly and publicly stated that the natural resources of the Republic of Cyprus belong to all Cypriots, Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike.”