Cyprus' Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides told Russia's visiting foreign chief Sergei Lavrov that international intervention is needed to stop Turkey from continuing to drill for energy in Cypriot waters as Moscow offered to help.
“It’s therefore essential at this juncture for the international community to intercede with Turkey especially by all UN Security Council members like Russia with the aim of immediately ending Turkey’s unlawful actions and behavior that clearly don’t adhere to the framework of international law,” Christodoulides said.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who met with Lavrov, has repeatedly asked the United Nations to step in but has been ignored as he has complained Turkey, which has occupied the northern third of the island since an unlawful 1974 invasion, is using the energy hunt to do it again.
The European Union issued only soft sanctions against officials of Turkey's state-run petroleum company but exempted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fearing he will unleash more refugees and migrants who went to his country on the bloc through Greek islands.
EU members Greece and Cyprus accuse Turkey of violating international law and of “gunboat diplomacy,” while Turkey insists it’s defending its rights and those of Turkish-Cypriots to their rightful share of the area’s potential gas deposits.
Anastasiades had offered to give them 30 percent of any potentially lucrative finds after his government licensed foreign companies to drill in the island's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ,) parts of which Turkey doesn't recognize.
Christodoulides said Turkey’s “destabilizing actions” are also hampering attempts to resume Cyprus reunification talks which fell apart in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they would never remove a 35,000-strong army on the occupied side, and wanted the right of military intervention and for their side to take part in the energy licensing.
The EU is mulling imposing tougher sanctions on Turkey over its “illegal” actions if talks fail to end the standoff as the current penalties have done nothing to deter Erdogan from forging ahead and even mocking the bloc for its efforts.
Lavrov said Moscow is ready to step in and help start talks if asked to help lower the tension and find a solution to a problem for which there is apparently none as Erdogan said he won't pull out his ships.
“Russia considers as unacceptable any steps that could further escalate tensions,” Lavrov said after talks with Christodoulides.
“We would be ready to contribute to building good neighborly relations in the event this is requested of us by those involved,” Lavrov said, adding that Moscow has repeatedly called on leaders in the region to “resolve these differences though dialogue and within a legal framework.”
“As far as your relations with Turkey are concerned, we are ready to promote dialogue, pragmatically based on mutual interests and in search of decisions, which will be fair and based on international law,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov’s visit comes a month after Anastasiades asked Russian President to personally step in so that Turkey “is convinced to cease its unlawful actions,” but Turkey has bought Russian made S-400 missile defenses and said it would be working with Russia on military exercises in the East Mediterranean.
Lavrov said the situation was being inflamed by American attempts to stir up “conflict instead of peaceful solutions” in the region, referring to the United States partially lifting an arms embargo on Cyprus that was designed to prevent an arms race hindering reunification hopes.
Turkey reacted angrily to the partial embargo lifting and announced that Russia would also be conducting live-fire naval exercises this month in areas in the eastern Mediterranean where Turkish research vessels are prospecting for gas.
Cyprus wants closer ties with the US, especially after the partial arms embargo lift, but also wants to stay close to Russia and China for support in the UN, which hasn't worked out yet.
The US Ambassador to Cyprus, Judith Garber, said the lifting of the embargo had no connection to “valued partner and ally” Turkey, but aimed to strengthen regional security and to “counter malign actors in the region,” essentially Turkey.
Garber said Washington waived a requirement that Cyprus cease to offer refueling and other port services to Russian warships, but that it would continue to “encourage” Cypriot government authorities to deny those services.
“We believe that Russia is playing a very destabilizing role in the region, especially in Syria,” Garber also said.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)