Sticking to a hard line of defiance, Turkey dismissed calls from Greece’s new government and the European Union to back off drilling for energy off Cyprus’ coast, claiming some of the same waters in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as the legitimate government.
Turkey has occupied the northern third of the island since an unlawful 1974 invasion and insists it has rights to parts of the EEZ where Cyprus has licensed foreign companies, including the US’ ExxonMobil, to hunt for oil and gas.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the EU’s stance proved it could not be a neutral mediator over Cyprus, which Turkey doesn’t recognize and as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has banned Cypriot ships and planes.
Turkey has been in EU accession talks for 14 years, backed by Cyprus and Greece but those have floundered since Erdogan, following a failed 2016 coup attempt, began purging civil society and the military and jailing journalists challenging him. Cyprus belongs to the EU.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the ship Fatih started drilling to the west of the Mediterranean island at the start of May and a second research vessel, the Yavuz, has arrived to accompany it.
Cyprus, whose complaints to the United Nations have been ignored, said Turkey’s drilling is in violation of international law – which Turkey doesn’t recognize either – and as Erdogan said his country has the legal right to drill.
The EU, after repeatedly being ignored, reportedly is mulling sanctions that could include withholding aid to Turkey as tension mounts that there could be a naval conflict with Greece and Turkey – along with the United Kingdom, the former Colonial ruler which has military bases there – guarantors of security for the island, and ExxonMobil involved.
“We reject the statements by the Greek Foreign Ministry and EU officials which describe these activities of our country as illegitimate,” the Turkish foreign ministry statement said.
“It has become clear that the European Union is incapable of taking on a role as an impartial mediator in negotiation processes regarding a resolution to the Cyprus problem,” the ministry added.
The ministry said the Fatih was drilling in fields within the continental shelf that Turkey had declared to the United Nations, and for which Turkish state energy company Turkish Petroleum (TP) had issued licenses in 2009 and 2012.
The Yavuz vessel was drilling on behalf of Cypriot Turks in a field for which TP had issued a license in 2011, it said.
It said Greece deserved the title of “Europe’s spoiled child” and along with Cyprus had violated international law and dragged the eastern Mediterranean toward instability.
“Being a member of the European Union does not give them the right to usurp the legitimate rights and interests of Cypriot Turks,” the ministry said, Reuters reported.