Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said they will team up to press the European Union at a high-stakes June 20-21 summit in Brussels to get tougher with Turkey’s plans to drill for energy in Cypriot waters, although they won’t withdraw their support for Turkey’s bid to join the bloc.
Without a navy or military, the EU has little recourse to pressure Turkey beyond sanctions, such as withholding monies from a suspended refugee and migrant swap deal in which 6 billion euros ($6.78 billion) was pledged, along with visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in the bloc and a faster-track entry process.
But with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan thumbing his nose at the EU – which is treading lightly, fearful he could unleash more refugees and migrants on Greek islands – Cyprus has to hope that a combination of international pressures will work.
The Unted States has said Cyprus has a right to license energy companies in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that Turkey violated, sending in a drill ship, with a warship nearby, and plans for another drill ship to be sent.
Greece and Turkey both belong to NATO, and, along with the United Kingdom – the former Colonial ruler of the island and which still has military bases there – are guarantors of security for Cyprus, but the prospect of lucrative oil and gas revenues has upped the ante and tension.
The EU’s General Affairs Council (GAC) called for “appropriate measures” against Turkey, which government sources have described as “especially positive,” continued vague diplomatic language which Erdogan has ignored as so far there are no consequences for his provocations.
Tsipras said he and Anastasiades agreed on a common strategy that so far doesn’t include sanctions but only more talk and said he believes “very clear decisions will be taken in Brussels and possibly even measures, if Turkey continues its provocative behavior.”
Asked how Greece will react if Turkey also moves to drill off the southeastern Aegean island of Kastellorizo, Tsipras said, “I believe Turkey won’t do it.” He added: “We won’t allow (Erdogan) to do it. We have a plan,” but so far it’s still secret.
But worries persist that there could be a conflict with Turkey over the Aegean and East Mediterranean although Greece reportedly believes if the EU goes beyond issuing press releases of “concern,” “deep concern,” and “grave concern,” that it will strengthen Greece’s alliances.
Tsipras said Erdogan wants a share of energy resources – although Anastasiades had agreed to share them, not enough for Turkey, which wants to take part in the licensing of foreign companies in the Cypriot EEZ.
Tsipras said Erdogan is not aware of “new realities,” which he put this way: “The reality is that Cyprus is no longer a small defenseless state in the middle of the Mediterranean, but an EU member-state.”
But Greece and Cyprus, despite the possibility even of a conflict, continue to back Turkey’s bid to get into the EU at the same time France and Germany and even the European Parliament have backed away from support of the process, that’s now 14 years old.
Turkish Foreign Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted by the state-run Anadolu Agency as saying that the “only thing” Turkey wants is to “guarantee that the rights of Turkish Cypriots are accepted by the Greek-Cypriot administration, Greece, the EU and everyone else.”
Speaking in Ankara, Cavusoglu said, “We won’t have any trouble sharing the wealth (in the region,) even though it would come from waters not under Turkey’s aegis.
Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos discussed Turkey’s drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ with US National Security Adviser John Bolton in a phone call on June 19 and Kathimerini said he said that it was critical for the international community to demand Turkey not go ahead with drilling.
Defense Minister Evangelos Apostolakis said that Greece, along with Cyprus, the EU and other international interest he didn’t identify are taking all necessary measures against Turkey without
Earlier, EU foreign ministers urged the 28-member bloc to immediately draw up a list of “appropriate measures” against Turkey for drilling for gas in waters were EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg expressed “grave concern over the ongoing illegal drilling” and condemned the fact that Turkey hasn’t heeded the EU’s repeated appeals to end such actions and follow international law.
Cyprus’ Foreign Ministry said the EU’s top diplomats called on the bloc’s executive arm to submit possible sanctions, including cuts to pre-accession financial aid that Turkey as a membership candidate currently receives. The ministry said it’s the first time the EU is mulling such actions against Turkey.
The ministers “stress the immediate and serious consequences Turkey’s illegal actions are having on the entire fabric of Turkish-EU relations,” the statement said.
Cyprus said any drilling by a Turkish drillship 40 miles (64 kilometers) off its western coastline is a flagrant violation of international law and its sovereign rights. Turkey, which doesn’t recognize Cyprus, says it’s acting to protect its rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the area’s energy reserves and insists the area where it’s now drilling falls inside its own continental shelf.
Turkish officials have warned they will send a second ship to begin drilling off the east coast off the ethnically split Mediterranean island nation where Turkey has occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion, with the implicit consent of the United States it was said.
Companies that Cyprus has licensed to drill for gas off its southern coast include the US’ ExxonMobil, which has reported a major gas find, as well as Italy’s Eni and France’s Total.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)