Cranking Up Tension, Turkey Sending Second Energy Ship Off Cyprus

FILE

FILE - An undated photo of the the Saipem 12000 drilling floater. (Saipem via AP)

Despite pressure from the United States and European Union to back off, Turkey is planning to send a second ship off Cyprus to drill for oil and gas after saying exploration would take place in Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the legitimate government it doesn’t recognize.

That came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan upped the ante in an increasingly high-stake gambit testing Cyprus, Greece and the international community with Turkish fighter jets again violating Greek air space.

Turkey’s Finance Minister Berat Albayrak – Erdogan’s son-in-law – said the ship Yavuy will join the vessel Fatih off the coast of Cyprus,  Ankara will be sending the drill ship Yavuz to join the Fatih off the coast of Cyprus.

He made the announcement just before the May 13 launch by Turkey of its annual Sea Wolf military exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea. Turkey has already been conducting its Blue Homeland naval exercises in a test of its war-time capabilities.

European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, expressed “great concern” – the bloc has varying levels of concern it shows it press releases, without an army to enforce them and as it both denounced and praised Turkey, fearing the country will unleash another wave of migrants and refugees on Greek islands.

“We call urgently on Turkey to show restraint, respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus in its exclusive economic zone and refrain from any such illegal action to which the EU will respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus,” she said, but was ignored.

Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos and his Cypriot counterpart, Nikos Christodoulides, raised Turkish aggression before the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels.

Katrougalos stressed that Greece will back Cyprus “with all the available means at its disposal” and said he expected the EU to do the same, said Kathimerini, without indicating whether that would mean only diplomatic efforts.

Greece and Turkey, along with the United Kingdom, the former Colonial ruler with a military base still on Cyprus, are guarantors of security for the island. The hunt for oil and gas has been an explosive catalyst over hopes to resume unity talks after the last round of talks collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.

Those fell apart when Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci insisted on keeping an army on the northern third unlawfully occupied since a 1974 invasion, with Turkey citing that date as a warning it could invade again when it wanted.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who walked away in Switzerland when Turkey said it would keep its army on the island and wanted the right to militarily intervene when it wanted, had offered to share any potentially lucrative revenues from oil and gas with Turkish-Cypriots.

Erdogan said that wasn’t enough and wanted them to take part in the licensing of foreign companies that the legitimate government has authorized to drill, with the US energy giant ExxonMobil – with ships from the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet around – saying it had found a big gas reserve already.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean was getting tense, describing Turkey as “erratic and aggressive,” calling for dialogue Erdogan rejected.