With the European Union unwilling to issue an ultimatum, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a second energy drillship into waters of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone, defying the United States as well.
A Turkish energy research vessel is already there, with a warship nearby, in an area that Turkey doesn’t recognize, with plans to begin drilling for gas, the launch of the second vessel coming with a fanciful ceremony.
Turkey’s Energy Minister Fatih Donmez boarded the 230-meter (750-foot) vessel, the Yavuz, which can drill to an estimated depth of up to 12,000 meters (40,000 feet) sending it to join the Fatih, which is drilling some 40 miles off the west coast of Cyprus, a member of the EU.
The Cypriot government condemned the Turkish action as a violation of international law and its sovereign rights and EU leaders meeting in Brussels spoke of the “immediate negative impact that such illegal actions have across the range of EU-Turkey relations,” but did nothing else.
They said in a statement that their services will “submit options for appropriate measures without delay, including targeted measures,” without specifying what they were or if they included sanctions such as holding back monies as part of a refugee swap deal, visa-free travel for Turkish citizens, and faster-track entry into the bloc.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said they “will not be soft measures,” but Erdogan has ignored the EU which has limited itself to issuing press releases ranging from concern to deep concern to grave concern as the drilling goes on.
Donmez said his country would defend its rights and those of breakaway Turkish-Cypriots to the area’s energy reserves “until the end” and would continue drilling “without interruptions.” Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish-Cypriot declaration of independence on the northern third of the island that’s been occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion.
In a dig at the 28-member EU, Donmez said Turkey rejects “attempts by actors from outside the region to delineate” the eastern Mediterranean, thumbing his nose at the bloc’s leaders and essentially daring them to do anything except talk, the EU without a military.
He said the Yavuz will be drilling off Cyprus’ eastern coast in coming months, likely starting in July with the EU in a dither about what to do and Erdogan even dismissing denunciations from the US at the same time he’s still hoping to purchase American-made F-35 fighter jets.
Greek Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras had said sanctions should be considered but he didn’t offer any although with Turkey also increasing provocations in the Aegean, sending fighter jets and warships to violate Greek airspace and waters, he has suspended campaigning for the July 7 snap elections which surveys show he will lose big.
Cyprus has divided its EEZ off its southern coast into 13 blocks, or areas. Turkey, which doesn’t recognize Cyprus and bars its ships and planes, said parts of three blocks off the island’s west coast fall within its own continental shelf. Turkish-Cypriots claim most of seven blocks in the east.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said any potential gas proceeds will be shared equitably with Turkish Cypriots after a reunification deal is agreed upon and has created a fund into which all such revenues will flow.
That’s not enough for Erdogan or Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci who said they want to take part in the licensing which has see the legitimate government authorize foreign companies, including France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and the US’ ExxonMobil, which reported a major gas find.
WE’VE GOT YOUR BACK
EU leaders expressed their solidarity with and full support for Cyprus on and called for measures to be taken against Turkey, which remain defiant, leaving the bloc’s officials – whose top hierachy will be replaced June 30 – at a loss at what to do as a lame duck administration.
“Concerning Turkey’s continued illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, the EU will, as set out in the Council conclusions of 18 June 2019, closely monitor developments and stands ready to respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus,” the European Council stated, vowing to consider “targeted measures,” without saying what they might be.
The EU has talked and talked about the Turkish energy invasion but also is reluctant to act, fearing Erdogan could unleash more refugees and migrants on Greek islands and the mainland, awash with more than 70,000 of them, most seeking asylum after the EU closed its borders.
The EU’s General Affairs Council (GAC) invited the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to submit options for “appropriate measures without delay,” but it was delayed and no measures were forthcoming.
Speaking to reporters, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned Turkey that it could expect a tough response, similar to repeated EU threats that have been idle so far, Erdogan then continuing to ramp his his bellicosity.
“We are in full solidarity with Cyprus. What Turkey is doing in the territorial waters of Cyprus is totally unacceptable […] The commission has been charged to propose measures to be taken as soon as possible when it comes to this conflict and we’ll do so, and these will not be soft measures,” Juncker said.
Sources in Brussels which weren’t identified told the Greek newspaper Kathimerini that the measures could entail the continuation of the freeze on pre-EU accession funds to Turkey and custom union negotiations, but also the imposition of sanctions on individuals and companies that are involved in Turkey’s drilling activities.
But these are just ideas on the drawing board and with the EU indecisive, Erdogan has become bolder, raising fears there could be a military conflict in the East Mediterranean or Aegean, accidental or deliberate.
The sources also said that the EU seems unlikely to do anything more than issue press releases, allowing Erdogan to do what he wants, knowing the bloc’s leaders still want Turkey to one day to join although talks began 14 years ago, in 2005, and have mostly been in limbo.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)