Turkey could face EU sanctions over gas drilling in Cyprus, Greece and others have warned, prompting mockery by Turkey’s president.
“We’ve agreed … to prepare the ground in the coming week for the [EU] summit to take relevant decisions, even sanctions against Turkey, if it’s verified that there’s been drilling in the Cypriot EEZ [exclusive economic zone],” Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday (16 June).
He spoke after a snap meeting of the Greek national defence council amid escalating tension in the eastern Mediterranean.
EU leaders are holding a summit on Thursday that was meant to focus on the institutions’ top jobs in the wake of last month’s European Parliament elections.
But leaders are also likely to put pressure on Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop drilling gas wells in disputed waters near Cyprus.
“We ask the European Union to remain seized on the matter and, in case Turkey does not cease its illegal activities, to consider appropriate measures in full solidarity with Cyprus,” the leaders of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Malta said after a mini-summit in Valetta last Friday.
“Turkey must stop its illegal activities in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone … The European Union will not show weakness on this matter,” French president Emmanuel Macron said at the event.
The Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, added that Turkey’s actions were “a threat against peace” and that Erdogan was trying to “violate the sovereign rights of another country”.
The US has also taken Cyprus’ side.
Turkey’s drilling operation was “highly provocative and risks raising tensions in the region”, the State Department said on Sunday.
The US estimates that there is up to 3.5 trillion cubic metres of gas in the eastern Mediterranean – a vast reserve.
But the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which split from Cyprus in 1974 and which is recognised only by Turkey, says it has equal rights to gas in waters near the island.
Tsipras and Macron spoke out after two Turkish vessels, backed by a military escort, arrived in the area to start drilling exploratory wells in order to enforce the TRNC’s claims.
Turkey also mocked the EU sanctions threats, with Erdogan taking aim at Macron in his riposte.
“Those who have the right to speak about the eastern Mediterranean can speak. When did France have the right to speak on the eastern Mediterranean? Do they have a coast in the eastern Mediterranean?” Erdogan told press on Saturday.
“We are one of the guarantor countries in Cyprus. Greece and the United Kingdom are also the guarantor countries. What is France doing there?,” he said.
“Are you [Macron] making such statements for Total? … it means you have left the presidency and have now begun work as a [Total] lawyer,” he added, referring to a French energy firm that is also involved in gas operations in Cypriot waters.
“We continue and will continue to search [for gas] in those areas”, Erdogan also said on TV on Sunday.
He issued his own threats, saying Cyprus would “come off badly” if it tried to arrest the crews of the two Turkish drill ships.
The EU mini-summit last week also called for UN-led talks on Cypriot reunification to resume and for Turkey to pull its military forces out of Cyprus.
But “Turkey is not reducing its troops in Northern Cyprus” and “does not need permission from anyone” to keep them there, Erdogan said.
“The EU countries have shown once again with the decision they took that they cannot be fair and impartial on the Cyprus issue, and Turkish Cypriots should trust them neither with their security nor the protection of their rights,” the TRNC’s prime minister Ersin Tatar added, referring to the EU mini-summit statement.
The gas dispute comes amid a historic low in Turkey’s relations with the West.
The EU de facto halted accession talks with Ankara in 2016 after Erdogan jailed tens of thousands of people in response to a failed coup.
The US has already imposed sanctions on Turkey, a fellow Nato ally, by halting a joint fighter jet programme because Erdogan decided to buy anti-aircraft systems from Russia.Bloomberg gives $500 mln to nix coal, slow natural gas production