Ankara will start drilling on 20 April in the economic zone of Cyprus

Turkey and EU clash over eastern Mediterranean gas


"If Turkey continues with what it is doing, we will respond and act within the framework we set," said EU Office for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy spokesman Peter Stano this week. The EU official was referring to the Eurasian nation's resumption of drilling and exploration operations in the eastern Mediterranean, specifically in the economic zone considered to be exclusive to Cyprus, according to Al Masdar News.

The publication reported Thursday that "a ship carrying a giant oil exploration platform entered the Çanakkale (Dardanelles) Strait in northwest Turkey, which connects the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, protected by the Turkish Coast Guard. This new move by Ankara means that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given the order to restart operations in the western part of Mare Nostrum, after several months of inactivity. 

Stano pointed out that the EU axis considers these Turkish actions to be "illegal". "Our position has not changed, and we still believe that these actions are illegal and we are concerned," he said in a press release, where he also recalled that Brussels established in November 2019 "a legal framework to impose restrictive measures against Turkey, which were followed in February 2020 by the adoption of sanctions against some of the agents involved in the excavations.

For his part, the EU's High Representative for this matter, Josep Borrell, assured that "the institutions and the Member States will closely monitor and follow Turkey's actions in the Eastern Mediterranean".

On 15th April Ankara issued a NAVTEX (NAVigational TEXt Messages) informing that on 20th April the drilling ship Yavuz would start its operations in the west of Cyprus, which will last until 18th July. 

The official response from this small EU country of 9,000 square kilometres was not long in coming. Government spokesman Kyriacos Kousios denounced in the national press agency that Turkey was "following the policy of the gunboats, behaving like pirates of the Eastern Mediterranean, violating the principles of international law and interfering in the sovereign rights of third countries, including Cyprus". He also criticised the opportunism of Erdogan's government, which is taking advantage of the global chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic to further its foreign policy ambitions. "This policy is not only continuing, but also intensifying, at a time when the whole world is facing COVID-19 and all states are making huge efforts to protect the health and safety of their citizens," the Cypriot official said. "Turkey's policy ignores even the pandemic and does not respect even the difficult times the states are going through," he concluded.

It should be recalled at this point that the country led by Erdogan does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus as a state. Instead, it does defend the sovereignty of the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. "As Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, it believes that it can steal its resources in freedom. This is not surprising, because Turkey is only one of 15 countries worldwide that does not recognise the UN Charter Law of the Sea and uses the almost illegal declaration in the occupied north of Cyprus to justify its piracy," explains analyst Paul Antonopoulos in the Greek City Times.

Similarly, the Greek media have denounced Turkey for creating "an explosive climate in the Aegean". ProNews and Pentapostagma explain that Ankara has been the scene of armed fighter flights over the islands, such as Lesbos, Chios and Samos, in recent weeks. "These have never happened as often as they do now," they warn.