Dismissing mild European Union sanctions as “useless,” Turkey has forged ahead with drilling for energy in Cypriot sovereign waters, putting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a course to clash with the bloc’s leaders further and might harm European countries doing business in Turkey.
Turkey has been trying to join the EU since 2005 but has seen its bid falter under Erdogan, who refuses to recognize the legitimate government of Cyprus and bars its ships and planes and as he has sent two research vessels and a warship into the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ,) parts of which Turkey doesn’t recognize either.
With the United States - but not the United Nations, which has stayed out of the fray - also telling Turkey to pull back, tension has ratcheted up along with fears there could be a military conflict, accidental or otherwise.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has offered to share potentially lucrative oil and gas revenues with Turkish-Cypriots who’ve been unlawfully occupying the northern third of the island since a 1974 invasion.
But that’s not enough for Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci who want their side to have a hand the licensing of foreign companies authorized by Cyprus to drill, including American giant ExxonMobil, which has reported a major gas find.
The EU, whose press releases backing Cyprus and condemning Turkey were ignored, finally set sanctions including suspending some high-level meetings that had gone nowhere and called for the European Investment bank to review whether to keep lending to Turkey. There was also suspension of talks on international air transport agreement.
"(The EU) had to take these valueless decisions just to satisfy Greek Cypriots," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at a press conference, said the Voice of America in a report.
Some analysts doubt whether the EU’s mild rebuke will work. "These European sanctions — it's nonsense, it's wrong and meaningless," International Relations Professor Huseyin Bagci, of Ankara's Middle East Technical University told VOA.
"Not all the European countries have the same views (over Cyprus.) I don't expect the EU can do more on the embargo and sanctions,” he added, with Turkey apparently believing it has the upper hand now.
"Whether the issue of migration or others, they [EU] have to come to us. There is no other way," Cavusoglu said, referring to an essentially suspended swap deal with the EU in which refugees and migrants who flooded Greek islands would be returned if they were deemed ineligible for asylum.
Erdogan had threatened to unleash more who had come to Turkey, fleeing war and strife in the Middle East and other countries, using the country as a jumping off point to get to Greece and then more prosperous countries before the EU slammed the door on them.
There could also be consequences to EU companies doing business in Turkey. "European companies, Italian, Dutch, German and British invested heavily in Turkey; there are risks there," Political Science professor Cengiz Aktar of the University of Athens told VOA.. "Actually, the EU would love to avoid any retaliation against Turkey. They have done the minimum. "There is too much at stake," he added. "Also exactly like the US, the EU does not want to push Turkey into the lap of Russia; that is the strategic concern of the EU together with their American ally."