Ankara has denied Greek Cyprus’s recent complaint to the European Union that the Turkish military has obstructed natural gas prospecting off the coast of the divided island, calling on both Greece and Greek Cyprus not to use Turkey’s ongoing military operations in northern Syria as an opportunity for gas exploration.
“It should not be thought that some opportunist attempts over the islets in Aegean and gas exploration activities are not to our attention. We are warning those who overstep the mark in Cyprus and Aegean,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told the ruling Justice and Dvelopment Party (AKP) lawmakers in parliament on Feb. 13.
Tensions have escalated in the eastern Mediterranean after Greek Cyprus launched a new gas drilling effort in block three off the island and made a contract with the Italian energy firm ENI. There were reports that ENI’s vessel, the drillship Saipem 12000 was stopped on Feb. 9 by Turkish military ships and told not to continue because there would be military activities in the destination area.
The Greek Cyprus administration has long been intensifying its unilateral efforts to explore and drill hydrocarbon reserves off the island, despite the fact they also belong to the Turkish Cypriots. Some areas Greek Cyprus announced that it will explore reserves are claimed by Turkey to be part of its exclusive economic zone.
Erdoğan revealed that Turkish warships and security units were monitoring developments in the region but did not confirm that ENI’s vessel was stopped.
“Turkey will be a close follower of its rights stemming from history, agreements and international law. For us, our rights in Afrin are not different from our rights in Cyprus and the Aegean,” he stressed.
The EU on Feb. 12 called on Turkey to avoid threats and “refrain from any actions that might damage good neighborly” ties after Cyprus, a member of the bloc, accused the Turkish military of obstructing a ship exploring for gas.
“I call on Turkey to avoid threats or actions against any EU member and instead commit to good neighborly relations, peaceful dispute settlement and respect for territorial sovereignty,” said EU Council President Donald Tusk after speaking to Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.
“Turkey needs to commit unequivocally to neighborly relations and avoid any kind friction, threat or action directed against a member state,” a spokeswoman for the EU’s executive European Commission told journalists on Feb. 12, echoing Turks’s line.
“The EU also stresses the need to respect the sovereignty of member states over their territorial sea and airspace,” she added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu replied to the EU’s criticisms on Cyprus in an interview with state-broadcaster TRT on Feb. 13.
He said many EU leaders admit that both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots are right in the criticisms against Greek Cypriot unilateral actions off the island in their private conversations.
“The only thing to do is for Greek Cypriots to abandon unilateral actions in the eastern Mediterranean,” Çavuşoğlu said.