Risky Business: Turkey Pushes Energy Drilling Off Cyprus

Cyprus' president Nicos Anastasiades (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus said Turkey’s decision to send another oil and gas drilling ship into waters off its coast in the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is putting the East Mediterranean in danger of a conflict, calling it an “utterly provocative and aggressive” violation of its sovereign rights.

That’s a reiteration of what the legitimate government has long said, ignored by Turkey, which has defied calls from the United States to stop drilling and defying soft sanctions from the European Union, which is reluctant to get tougher, fearful Turkey will flood Greek islands with more refugees and migrants who went to to Turkey fleeing war and strife in other countries.

The office of Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades put out a statement that Turkey is using “bullying tactics of an era long gone” in sending in another ship, the news agency Reuters said in a report on the growing tension and escalation by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“This new provocation is exemplary of Turkey’s defiance of the European Union’s and the international community’s repeated calls to cease its illegal activities,” said Anastasiades’ statement and as his pleas to the United Nations to get involved have been ignored as well.

The additional Turkish ship, the Yavuz, was sent into waters Cyprus claims but as Turkey has disputed parts of the declared EEZ. Cyprut said the area though had been de-limited with Egypt “in accordance with international law,” – which Turkey also doesn’t recognize.

Cyprus has licensed France’s Total and Italy’s Eni to drill for oil and gas in blocks of the EEZ there, with the American company ExxonMobil looking in another spot and as Turkey had sent warships into the area to protect its vessels.

“It is yet another proof of the utterly provocative and aggressive behaviour of Ankara, which has chosen to speedily and irreversibly depart from international legality, thus putting security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean at risk,” the statement said of Turkey’s move.

Cagatay Erciyes, head of the department of Turkey’s Foreign Ministry looking into the East Mediterranean, said on Twitter the Yavuz will start drilling in an area he said belongs to Turkey – which has occupied the northern third of Cyprus since an unlawful 1974 invasion.

Turkey has already drilled two wells in waters off Cyprus’s east and west coasts, setting off protests from Cyprus and the EU and undercutting hopes of restarting unification talks more than two years after they collapsed at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.

That happened when Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they would never remove a 35,000-strong standing army on the occupied territory and wanted the right to militarily intervene again when they wanted.

In July, the EU agreed to call off high-level political meetings, suspend negotiations on an aviation deal, and reduce EU accession funding earmarked for Turkey, in a response to the drilling but Erdogan has continued to thumb his nose at critics.

Visiting Athens and meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Cyprus has America’s support.

noted that “We’ve make clear that operations in international waters are governed by a set of rules. We have told the Turks that illegal drilling is unacceptable and we will continue to take diplomatic actions to make sure that we do, as we do always, ensure that lawful activity takes place,” he said.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said the EU sanctions “will not affect in the slightest our country’s determination to continue hydrocarbon activities in the Eastern Mediterranean,” and they haven’t, sending in another ship.

Turkey said the drill ship would launch new operations next week even as a British diplomat said that Britain “deplored” any drilling in waters close to the island, reported Al-Jazeera and other news outlets.

“The drilling area lies within the Turkish continental shelf registered with the United Nations and in the permit licenses that the (government) granted to Turkish Petroleum,” said Erciyes.

He added that Turkey does not recognize the maritime boundary claims of the Greek Cypriots, adding that “unilateral actions” by Greek-Cypriots violated the rights of Turkey and aslo the Turkish-Cypriots.

“Turkey doesn’t recognize the continental shelf/exclusive economic zone maritime boundary claim of the Greek Cypriots despite their efforts to portray this claim as EU waters or boundaries, which is a blatant violation of international law,” he also said.

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