With tension rising and drawing in the European Union, United States and Greece, Cyprus’ government spokesman said Turkey’s plans to drill for oil and gas in the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a violation of international laws.
“Even without drilling, Turkey’s stance constitutes a violation of international law. [It is] an attack on the Republic of Cyprus,” Prodromos Prodromou said, with a Turkish drill ship in Cyprus’ EEZ, and a Turkish warship nearby.
He told Greece’s SKAI TV that while it’s not been confirmed that the Turkish ship has begun drilling – Cyprus issued an international warrant for the crew’s arrest, adding to the anxiety of a military conflict – that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s announcement he was going ahead is “further escalation in the blatant violation which have been experiencing.”
Greek Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said there should be sanctions brought by the EU if Turkey goes ahead with the drilling but didn’t say what they should be and without an army, the EU is powerless to stop it.
Greece and Turkey – both members of NATO – are guarantors of security on Cyprus, along with the United Kingdom, the former Colonial ruler which still has military bases there. The EU and US both told Erdogan to back off but he ignored them.
With snap elections looming July 7, Greece’s poll-leading major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis reiterated his call for sanctions after having first done so in May, a month before Tsipras joined in.
In a statement, the New Democracy leader called for “national unity and determination,” warning however against the “irresponsible dramatization” of the situation.
Mitsotakis said Tsipras’ decision to call a meeting of the Defense and Foreign Policy inner cabinet over the weekend was not of service “to the national line that we must all adhere to,” amid worries there could be a spike in tension leading to a military conflict that could draw in Greece against an alleged NATO ally.
HE WON’T BACK DOWN
Erdogan on June 16 said Turkey would go ahead with the gas exploration and drilling, defying calls from a meeting of southern EU leaders to stop.
“We continue and will continue to search in those areas that are ours,” Erdogan said during a televised speech in Constantinople, said Agence France-Presse.
“Someone has given an order. They will apparently arrest our boats’ personnel. You will come off badly if you do so,” Erdogan warned about the Cyprus arrest warrants and as Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades earlier said he feared Erdogan wants to seize the rest of Cyprus, with Turkey having occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion.
The Turkish Foreign Minister dismissed calls from seven EU leaders in the bloc’s south to cease and desist any action in Cyprus’ EEZ. Cyprus is a member of the EU that Turkey wants to join although Erdogan refuses to recognize the legitimate government and bars Cypriot ships and planes.
With the US energy giant ExxonMobil, one of the foreign companies licensed by Cyprus to drill, having found a major gas field, the prospect of big revenues from oil and gas has intensified the tensions.
Anastasiades had offered to share revenues with Turkish-Cypriots but Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci weren’t satisfied, demanding their side share inthe licensing process as well.
Turkey considers part of the area in the East Mediterranean where Cyprus has declared an EEZ under international to be part of Turkey’s continental shelf and granted exploration licenses to Turkish Petroleum in 2009 and 2012.
Erdogan lashed out at French President Emmanuel Macron over his support for Cyprus.
Macron said the EU would “not show weakness on this matter,” without explaining what the response would be if Erdogan proceeds.
“What business does France have here?” Erdogan said. “Turkey is a guarantor power in Cyprus. Greece and the UK are guarantor powers as well. What are you?
“Are you making such statements for Total? Show you have the power of attorney. So it means you have left the Presidency and have now begun work as a lawyer,” he said, referring to the French energy company Total that, along with Italy’s ENI have licenses to look for energy in the Cypriot EEZ, raising the stakes of international involvement in any conflict, with ships from the US Sixth Fleet in the area.