ATHENS – Unchecked by the European Union or United Nations, Turkey is becoming more aggressive in plans to hunt for energy off Greek islands and Cyprus, and the United States said the American oil company ExxonMobil won’t infringe on Turkey’s claims to the waters.
The new assault came came from Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar who told lawmakers in Ankara that Turkey won’t tolerate anyone interfering with its plans to look oil and gas in waters it declares its own.
In the case of Cyprus, where Turkey has been drilling already, that includes parts of the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) where ExxonMobil and its partner Qatar Petroleum have been licensed to explore.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the US and Qatar have given assurances their oil companies will steer clear of waters that Turkey has taken over even though they overlap with those of Cyprus, said Reuters.
That came after the Cypriot government, a member of the EU, licensed the two companies in the face of Turkish warnings it would even use gunships to keep them out.
The US had earlier said it backed Cyprus’ right to license companies to look for energy in its waters before pulling that back now.
The EU has been reluctant to confront Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fearful he will unleash more refugees and migrants on the bloc through Greece and its islands.
The UN has ignored repeated pleas from Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to intervene and NATO – to which Greece and Turkey belong – said it wants no part of their feuding.
A complicated brouhaha has developed in the Aegean and East Mediterranean as Turkey has become more emboldened after the EU, under pressure from Germany and Spain, refused to go along with Greece’s call for sanctions against Turkey.
Turkey does not recognize Cyprus and bars its ships and planes as Turkey’s hopes to join the EU have faded under Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule as he purged civil society, the military, education system and courts after a failed 2016 coup attempt against him and has jailed dozens of journalists.
That hasn’t brought any actions against Turkey and now with the lira falling and economic chaos on the doorstep, Erdogan has turned his attention to belligerence against Greece and Cyprus.
Turkey disputes the Continental Shelf areas claimed by Greece and Cyprus and pre-empted attempts for drilling off Cyprus by going into waters it said are its own, the US and Qatar essentially agreeing.
“No matter who they are, they cannot enter our continental shelf without our permission,” Cavusoglu told Parliament during his ministry’s budget talks.
“Therefore, in this accord on the Section 5, both countries – the United States and Qatar – have guaranteed that they will not enter our Continental Shelf,” he said, adding the companies will remain south of Turkey’s declared area, without indicating whether that would expand.
That came as Akar blamed Greece and Cyprus for the tension over the seas, saying those countries are being provocative in claims that, “include weapons procurement programs and the forging of so-called alliances, as well as aggressive actions and aggressive rhetoric,” said Kathimerini.
He said Greece has ignored Turkey’s “invitations for well-intentioned dialogue” and being in violation of the Treaty of Lausanne with “all manner of injustices and illegal activities.” These, he added, “are being answered on the table and in the field within the limits reciprocity.”
He didn’t mention that Turkey doesn’t recognize that treaty unless invoking to its advantage nor that Erdogan openly has coveted return of some Greek islands ceded away by the 1923 agreement.
Turkey has gone so far as to buy a Russian-made S-400 missile system that compromises NATO and could be used against Greece in a conflict and is buying arms from Germany and Spain, fellow EU allies of Cyprus.
Akar said Turkey won’t relent on using the system from Russia, an ideological enemy of NATO and still wants to buy US-made F-35 fighter jets that could be used against Greece although that’s been prohibited for now.
“We believe the United States has a positive stance on the issue. We are watching developments closely. However, in the event of a negative stance, we – as is natural and necessary given the hostile environment we are in – will be forced to explore other alternatives,” Akar said.
While couched in diplomatic terms, that is seen as a veiled threat that Turkey will use force to take what it wants with no sign anyone would try to stop it from happening.