EU Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting via a teleconference on April 22 expressed concern over Turkey’s drilling activity in the Eastern Mediterranean, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said, adding that the bloc reiterated its unwavering solidarity and support with Cyprus and Greece.
“In light of the most recent actions of Turkey related to drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean we reiterated our unwavering solidarity and support with Cyprus and Greece,” Borrell said. “And we will continue nevertheless our diplomatic engagement with Turkey, to try to steer our relationship towards a cooperative and constructive approach,” he added.
The EU has already responded positively condemning Turkish action, reconfirming its solidarity with Cyprus and Cyprus’ sole and legal rights to exploit its EEZ, Charles Ellinas, a senior fellow at the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council, told New Europe on April 24. “The US and Russia made similar statements. But, as before, it is unlikely that such responses, on their own without other strong measures to enforce them, will have any impact on Turkey.
Turkey has sent the Yavuz ship to drill for oil off the coast of Cyprus. In a statement on April 20, Nicosia condemned Turkey’s imminent drilling operation, by drillship Yavuz, within the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.
The resumption of Turkish drilling inside Cyprus’ EEZ and Ankara’s behaviour in the Aegean was also raised at the summit on April 23 by both Cyprus President Nikos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis despite the fact that the issue was not on the agenda. Mitsotakis stressed the need for the EU to send a clear message to Ankara.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement on April 24 slamming the EU’s remarks, claiming that Brussels is being used by Greece and Cyprus “and becoming a tool for their maximalist policies.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government is not breaking any rules and
“Turkey will continue to defend these rights.” “It’s this decisiveness that makes Turkey strong,” he told a cabinet meeting.
According to Ellinas. this escalation is “very likely” related to the coronavirus situation in Turkey. “This is a ‘nationalistic’ issue within Turkey and as such it attracts attention. But it is also opportunistic. President Erdogan has been very adept so far in exploiting opportunities, in this case created by the fact that in both Cyprus and Greece all attention is on fighting COVID-19,” he said, adding that with the oil companies announcing a delay in their drilling programme offshore Cyprus, he is exploiting a vacuum, and as a result attracting more attention domestically but also internationally. But this action is also in keeping with the seismic exploration and drilling programme in the Med announced by Turkey last December. “The message from Turkey appears to be that nothing will detract it from putting this into effect, not even COVID-19,” Ellinas said.
On April 23, the energy ministers of Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Italy and the Palestinian Authority held a teleconference initiated by the Israeli side, Greece’s Energy Ministry said. “Greece was represented by Environment and Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis. The main issue was the effect of the coronavirus crisis on the countries’ energy markets and the measures taken to address it. They also discussed wider issues of energy cooperation in the East Mediterranean region,” Greece’s Energy Ministry said.
Ellinas noted that drilling activities in the East Med are at a standstill at present, partly because of the logistical problems of moving personnel and supplies on and off drilling rigs due to COVID-19. But also due to the fact that the oil companies are implementing major cuts in spending – expected to continue into 2021 – due to the huge drop in oil and gas demand globally and the impact on prices, as a result of the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy. The earliest drilling activities will restart is late next year, but it is very likely to take longer, he said, adding, “Turkey appears to be impervious to this and determined to continue its aggression.”
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