Dismissing mild European Union sanctions over drilling for energy by two of its ships off Cyprus as “useless,” Turkey plans to send two more, also ignoring demands from the United States to back off the island’s sovereign waters.
After repeatedly pleading, urging and demanding that Turkey stop drilling, the EU said it would break off some low-level talks but steered clear of tougher measures, apparently trying to avoid a head-on confrontation with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
EU foreign ministers approved the first penalties that were far less than Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades wanted, the bloc’s leaders needing Turkey for security deals and anxious Erdogan would unleash more refugees and migrants on Greek islands.
The ministers said in a statement – the usually don’t talk to reporters or give news conferences – because of the “continued and new illegal drilling activities,” they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement and would call on the European Investment Bank to “review” it’s lending to the country.
They also backed a proposal by the EU’s executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional “targeted measures” were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.
Turkey wasn’t moved or impressed, refusing to recognize the legitimate government and barring its ships and planes. Energy has become a new catalyst in diminished hopes to reunify the island that was split after a 1974 invasion that saw Turkey seize the northern third, where it keeps a 35,000-strong standing army.
Responding to the sanctions, Turkey said it would send a fourth vessel, the Oruc Reis, into Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in defiance, essentially daring the EU’s leaders to try to get tougher, with the EU wary that Erdogan could flood Greek islands with more refugees and migrants who went to Turkey fleeing war and strife in Middle East countries.
“If you take such decisions against Turkey, we will increase activities. We already have three ships in the Eastern Mediterranean and will send a fourth as soon as possible,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a news conference in the North Macedonian capital of Skopje.
He added that the EU “should understand that they cannot cope with Turkey [using] such methods,” said Kathimerini.
“We decide [about] what we will do in our own continental shelf,” Cavusoglu said, stressing that as long as the rights of the Turkish-Cypriots are not guaranteed, “we will continue to increase our activities there.”
That came as Cyprus’ government, as expected, rejected a proposal by Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to set up a joint committee on managing natural gas discovered off the island’s coast.
Undersecretary to the President Vasilis Palmas said after a meeting of Greek-Cypriot party leaders chaired by Anastasiades the proposal contained provisions that “don’t serve the best interests of either the Cyprus Republic or the Cypriot people as a whole.”
The EU sanctions came as Turkey also faces possible economic sanctions from the U.S. over its purchase of a Russian-made missile defense system NATO said could undermine its defense systems but is still working with Turkey – a member of the defense alliance, like Greece.