Going full speed ahead, Turkey will go ahead with drilling for oil and gas in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ,) claiming it has rights under international laws of the sea it otherwise doesn’t recognize.
Tensions have soared since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who also doesn’t recognize Cyprus - a member of the European Union he wants to join and as he bars its ships and planes - sent two energy research vessels into the area, guarded by a warship.
The European Union and the United States have backed Cyprus’ rights to license foreign companies in the EEZ but nothing else, although the US Navy Sixth Fleet is in the area as American energy giant ExxonMobil is drilling and said it found a big gas reserve.
As the dispute over potential gas reserves picked up, Turkey insisted its state-of-the-art drilling ship, the Fatih, and its support vessels would begin operations in waters the EU said are in Cyprus’ EEZ but which a British official said are in dispute, drawing the ire of Cypriot
“Turkey does not recognize the unilateral and illegitimate Exclusive Economic Zone claims of the Greek Cypriots,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the state-run Anadolu news agency.
“Third parties should refrain in taking sides in overlapping maritime boundary claims and they should not act as if they are in a court in rendering judgement on bilateral maritime boundaries,” he said.
In a feature, the British newspaper The Guardian’s Helena Smith wrote that the Turkish vessels, escorted by a Naval frigate, were deployed 39 nautical miles off the divided island’s western coast, 80 nautical miles away from the nearest Turkish coast.
Turkey has unlawfully occupied the northern third of Cyprus since a 1974 invasion and the last round of unity talks collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they would never removed a 35,000-strong army there and wanted the right to militarily intervene.
Anastasiades had offered to share with Turkish-Cypriots in the occupied territory the revenues from energy finds but Erdogan and Akinci said they also wanted the right to tke part in the licensing process and then sent in their own vessels to look.
A senior Cypriot official said the legitimate government will issue international and European arrest warrants “for all involved” if, as looked likely, drilling did take place, the paper also said.
Earlier this month, the EU’s policy chief, Federica Mogherini, expressed “grave concern” over Turkey’s intentions, one of the levels of alarm the bloc uses in press releases of worry as it has no army and can’t back up its demands apart from ending the EU accession process for Turkey, with fears Erdogan would then unleash more refugees and migrants on Greece.
“We urgently call on Turkey to show restraint, respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus in its Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ] and refrain from any such action to which the European Union will respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus,” Mogherini said.
European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU was closely monitoring the situation as it can do nothing else but watch. “We stand united behind Cyprus,” he said the bloc’s more easterly member state.
THE DRILLING DANGER
If Turkey does begin drilling, it could crank up the tension to near-conflict levels at the same time the country is escalating provocations in the East Mediterranean and Aegean with Greece, with both guarantors of security for Cyprus along with the United Kingdom, the former Colonial ruler that still has a military base there.
Israel, Egypt and Lebanon, which have also discovered hydrocarbons off their coasts, have all signed delimitation agreements with Cyprus and Greece wants to share in linking energy finds across the region.
“The presence of international energy giants in our Exclusive Economic Zone is the best vote of confidence for our actions,” a well-placed government source told the Guardian. “By questioning the legitimate rights of Cyprus in its continental shelf and EEZ, Turkey is also questioning the agreements that we have already signed with neighbouring countries.”
Turkey’s move comes as it conducted launched its largest-ever naval exercise, Operation Seawolf, with more than 130 warships in the region. Much of the naval deployment is set to occur in waters close to the island.
“Our aim … is to show that the Turkish armed forces are extremely determined, committed and capable of ensuring the security, sovereignty, independence, maritime rights and benefits of Turkey,” said Defence Minister Hulusi Akar.
Without a Navy to challenge Turkey, Cyprus is trying to rally support internationally but a series of letters to the United Nations were set aside and NATO, to which Turkey belongs, has said nothing about the incursions nor repeated violations of Greek airspace and waters repeated times.