On the occasion of the funeral of Cyprus’ former president Dimitris Christofias on June 25 and amidst continued Turkish threats and provocations, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras warned Ankara that “whoever violates international law, and the sovereign rights of Greece and the Republic of Cyprus will pay a serious price.”
A Turkish ship had been operating off Cyprus’ west coast and has reportedly begun drilling. The AP notes that on June 20 Turkey “sent another ship to waters off the north eastern coast of the island’s Karpas Peninsula and operate in a borehole which will reach a depth of 3,300 meters.”
Turkey claims it is protecting its rights and those of the Turkish Cypriots, saying the exploration is legal because it is in the territorial waters of Northern Cyprus, a pseudo state it created on territory it has illegally occupied since its 1974 invasion but which is not recognized by any other country.
EU leaders have condemned Ankara and warned of sanctions, heartening Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Tsipras, who “warned Tuesday of ‘grave consequences’ for Turkey’s relations with the European Union and for regional stability if the Turkish government persists,” according to the Associated Press.
When EU foreign ministers gathered last week, they issued a statement that noted the ministers “stress the immediate and serious consequences Turkey’s illegal actions are having on the entire fabric of Turkish-EU relations.”
Anastasiades hailed the statement, seeing it as a positive development he hoped would be mirrored in the decisions EU leaders would make at a summit later in the week. The EU decided to…issue more statements.
This week, Cyprus extended the war of the words to the UN, where it “strongly protested…over Turkey’s violations,” and sending four documents detailing them.
It surely is not lost on Turkish officials in Ankara that Tsipras seems able and willing to do little more than warn the neighborhood bully that Athens’ big brother, the EU, will defend Greece and Cyprus, the Greek Prime Minister’s words constituting little more than echoes of the statements of EU leaders at the bloc’s regularly scheduled meetings.
While on the eastern Mediterranean island, Tsipras also toured the tiny Greek military contingent’s base and met with Hellenic Army personnel, rendering ironic his observation that Turkey’s drilling for gas in Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a sign of “weakness.”
The Turkish president has not been cowed by Greek or EU rhetoric.
“Erdogan, still smarting over the loss of Istanbul municipality by his ruling AKP party, quipped on Tuesday that Tsipras “is merely saying things by himself,” the AP noted, continuing, “Whatever he (Tsipras) says, we will conduct drilling and take all necessary measures with the (Turkish) armed forces.”
Still not issuing any sanctions, the EU’s language is nevertheless strong, perhaps building towards actions that realistically reflect the legal reality that Cyprus’ territorial waters and its EEZ are its Eastern border. At the EU28 summit in Brussels last Friday morning, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Turkey’s decision to drill for oil and gas in Cypriot territorial waters was “unacceptable” and added that that the EU supported Cyprus in the dispute with Turkey.
The Summit’s formal statement declared that Turkey’s drilling is “illegal” and that the bloc “stands ready to respond appropriately…The European Council underlines the serious immediate negative impact that such illegal actions have across the range of EU-Turkey relations…The European Council calls on Turkey to show restraint.”