Turkey’s vice president Fuat Oktay said on Monday that his country is “not afraid of anyone” and won’t be deterred from continuing drilling for oil and gas in disputed waters that have been a source of tension between Ankara and divided Cyprus.
“We are not afraid of anyone. Those who seek an adventure in the eastern Mediterranean will get an answer,” Oktay said during a ceremony to mark the 38th anniversary of the Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence.
Oktay’s remarks come after the Cypriot government said that ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum would resume in a few weeks drilling in an area southwest of Cyprus where they’re licensed to prospect for oil and gas.
A consortium made up of energy companies Total of France and Italian Eni will also resume drilling off Cyprus’ southern coast in the first half of next year.
Turkey doesn’t recognise Cyprus as a nation and contests waters where the Cypriot government claims exclusive economic rights. Ankara says a large chunk of those waters either overlap its continental shelf or belong to the Turkish Cypriots.
The Cypriot government insists Turkey’s actions contravene international law.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognises the Turkish Cypriot’s declaration of independence in the island’s north, where it maintains more than 35,000 troops.
Last week, the French frigate Auvergne docked in Cyprus to show according to the ship’s captain that “respect of international law and especially freedom of navigation matters” to France.
Captain Paul Merveilleux de Vignaux said the frigate’s deployment in the region “underlines how important France considers this part of the Mediterranean sea,” as well as the country’s “willingness to contribute to the stabilisation of this strategic area.”
France is also keen to make its presence felt to send signals to Turkey not to interfere with offshore drilling.
In February 2018, Turkish warships prevented a drill ship leased by Eni from conducting exploratory drilling in waters southeast of Cyprus.
(A version of this article was originally published by the Kathimerini newspaper and is reproduced by permission.)