EU-Turkey relations: EU considers imposing sanctions while Turkey keeps violating Cyprus’ sovereignty

Participation of Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the EC, and Federica Mogherini, Vice-President of the EC, in the Conference on Cyprus
Date: 12/01/2017. Location: Geneva – Palais des Nations
© European Union, 2017. Source: EC – Audiovisual Service

Turkey continues violating the sovereignty rights of Cyprus by conducting a new illegal drilling operation on the northeast of the island. The EU had already urged Turkey last month to stop its gas drilling in waters around Cyprus. Thus the EU bloc will now have to intervene to resolve such disputes.

However, Turkey kept on ignoring EU’s calls and already sent a second drill ship to exploit the natural sources of Cyprus. It seems that Cyprus would need all the support in the world it can possibly get on this matter in order to avoid further deteriorating the current turbulent relations.

The Sultan’s stance

During the last months Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been showing profound interest for the natural sources of Cyprus where gas was discovered in areas off the south of the island. The Turkish vessel, Fatih, has been on the west of Cyprus since May, 37 nautical miles off the western coast of the island.

As it was not enough, Turkey has sent another ship this week, called Yavuz, to start drilling operations within the week. The Turkish President has been disputing the rights of Cyprus to explore for gas and thus putting at greater risk the ties between the two countries.

Cyprus condemns Turkey’s actions

The Republic of Cyprus has claimed that Turkey’s actions are violating the island’s sovereign rights and illegally attempts to gain access to the natural gas located in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). More specifically, Cypriot government said that: “Turkey continues to violate international law, conventional and customary, blatantly ignoring calls by the European Union’s and the international community to end its illegal actions and respect the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources within its sea areas”.

Everyone against Turkey’s illegal operations

The EU has been supporting Cyprus’ sovereignty at the moment when Turkey has already sent two vessels to start drilling activities into Cyprus’ territorial waters. In detail, Commission Vice-President Federica Mogherini said that: “Turkey’s declared intention to illegally conduct a new drilling operation northeast of Cyprus is of grave concern…This second planned drilling operation, two months after the start of the ongoing drilling operations west of Cyprus, is a further unacceptable escalation which violates the sovereignty of Cyprus”. Furthermore, the EU is considering to impose sanctions to Turkey such as limiting the European Investment Bank’s sovereign-backed lending by cutting 146 million euros of financial aid for next year and postpone all ongoing negotiations between the two sides around an aviation agreement.

The U.S. has also substantial interest in Cyprus’ EEZ as US energy giant ExxonMobil has been licensed and already reported a major gas find. Last month, just after ship Fatih began exploitation operations in the west of Cyprus, the US State Department expressed its concerns calling on Turkey to stop drilling off Cyprus. Particularly, the US characterized this action as “highly provocative” which “risks raising tensions in the region”.

Other counties such as the UK, France, Egypt and Russia urged Turkey not to commence illegal operations in Cyprus’ waters. The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its worries on the issue while London mentioned that it is among its priorities to de-escalate the current situation in the Eastern Mediterranean through dialogue.

Therefore, it seems that all major forces are backing Cyprus and are ready to find a solution not only through constructive dialogue but sanctions may be as well imposed if Turkey continues deploying its drill ships and disputing the island’s sovereignty. The latter is most likely going to happen taking into consideration that the Turkish President will not leave this“opportunity” unexploited. Besides, Turkey has shown that it can benefit from such situations as achieved back in 2016 when making a “golden” deal with the EU in order to tackle the migration crisis. It is well known to the world that throught this EU-Turkey deal the Turkish side has been underperforming but still receiving hefty EU funds.

All in all, Turkey has once more crossed the line violating Cyprus’ rights and creating turbulences in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is certainly not going to be easy to persuade Recep Tayyip Erdoğan through dialogue to withdraw the Turkish vessels from Cyprus’ waters.

Let’s just hope that the EU intervention together with the international support will be enough to ease tensions between Cyprus and Turkey and avoid possible escalating events.

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