Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Turkey under pressure as EU backs sanctions over Cyprus drilling

Ankara has been drilling in waters it claims are Turkish, but the territory is internationally seen as belonging to the country's south

A helicopter flies over Turkish drilling ship Fatih as it sails towards Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. AP
A helicopter flies over Turkish drilling ship Fatih as it sails towards Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. AP

The EU has increased pressure on Turkey by approving sanctions over Ankara drilling for gas in water around Cyprus.

But Turkey says curbing contact or funding by the EU would not stop the search for oil and gas off the coast claimed by Cyprus, a member of the bloc.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that the move “showed how biased and partisan the EU is on the subject of Cyprus”.

“The decisions will not affect in the slightest our country’s determination to continue hydrocarbon activities in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the ministry said.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, last week said his country would increase drilling off Cyprus if the EU went ahead with sanctions.

The EU ministers said that because of Turkey’s “continued and new illegal drilling activities”, it was suspending talks on an air transport agreement and would call on the European Investment Bank to review its loans to Ankara.

Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas at either end of divided Cyprus.

Turkey does not recognise Cyprus as a state and claims 44 per cent of the island’s exclusive economic zone as its own.

Ankara also backs the breakaway northern Turkish-Cypriot half of the island, which claims a further 25 per cent of Cyprus’s economic area.

Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

A Turkish-Cypriot declaration of independence is recognised only by Turkey, which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the north.

Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 but only the internationally recognised south enjoys full membership benefits.

Turkey says it is protecting its rights to the area's hydrocarbon deposits, and those of Turkish Cypriots.

But Cypriot officials accuse Ankara of using the minority Turkish Cypriots to exert control over the eastern Mediterranean region.

The EU ministers repeated the “serious, immediate negative impact” that Turkey’s illegal actions are having on bilateral relations and called on Ankara to respect Cyprus’s sovereign rights in line with international law.

The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any attempt to drill for gas.

Cyprus has already issued about 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels now drilling 68 kilometres off the island’s west.

The Cyprus government has licensed energy companies including Exxon Mobil, France’s Total and Italy’s Eni to carry out gas drilling in blocks off the island’s southern coastline.

At least three significant gas deposits have been found so far.

Meanwhile, Cyprus’s Greek-Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades will chair a meeting of political leaders on Tuesday to discuss a renewed proposal by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci for a joint committee on managing offshore gas drilling.

Mr Akinci has repeatedly called for such a committee, which he says would give his community a say in how newly found gas deposits off Cyprus’s southern coast are managed and future proceeds shared.

A similar proposal was made by his predecessor, Dervis Eroglu, in 2011.

The Cypriot government says energy discussions with Turkish Cypriots should be part of overarching reunification talks, and that Turkish-Cypriot rights to energy reserves are assured.

The government says future gas proceeds will flow into an established hydrocarbons fund that will be shared equitably after a peace deal is signed.

The latest EU move comes as ties between Turkey and the US are strained after Ankara bought Russian S-400 missile defence systems.

The US is concerned that a Nato partner’s purchase of Russian systems could give Moscow a back door into the alliance’s defences, particularly its trillion-dollar F-35 stealth fighter jet programme.

The US is considering sanctions and other measures days after the first delivery of S-400 parts arrived in Turkey.

Updated: July 17, 2019 02:53 AM