By staff writer
Tensions in the eastern Mediterranean have increased after the European Union responded with the threat of sanctions, if Turkey goes ahead with plans to start drilling for gas near Cyprus.
Both Turkey and Cyprus claim jurisdiction over the waters off the divided island’s northern coast.
Following calls for sanctions by EU member states Greece and Cyprus, the European Council urged Turkey to “show restraint, respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus and refrain from any such actions”. In a statement it said it would consider its response if Turkey continued the “illegal drilling”, reported the BBC.
Cyprus, supported by the international community, says Turkey violates its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), while Turkey considers the area to be within the jurisdiction of Turkish Cypriots. It also says it is drilling in its continental shelf, complying with international law.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told parliamentarians belonging to his APK-party that he would not be threatened. “We have four ships in the area and we have taken measures… we have rights here,” he said, according to Cyprus-Mail quoting Greek media.
Cyprus is a member of the EU, but the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is only recognised by Turkey which has a large military presence there.
The island was divided after a failed Greek coup-attempt in 1974 sent Turkish Cypriots fleeing north and a Turkish invasion.
The ship Turkey sent to the disputed area in June is the second one after it started exploration work there in November last year. Cyprus issued arrest warrants for its crew in response and also threatened to block the EU’s expansion plans if it did not take action.
Relationships between the EU and Turkey, which also remains a candidate for EU membership, are already under strain following reports of violations of human rights and the rule of law in the country.
Meanwhile there have been reports of Turkey violating the EU external border through incursions into Greek air space which, according to statistics provided by the Greek military, rose from 1,269 in 2014 to 3,317 in 2017. Maritime incursions also rose, from 371 to 1,998 in the same period, as reported by the New York Times in April last year.
A key NATO-member, Turkey also bought the S-400 missile defence system from Russia. This has not gone down well with the other allies, in particular the US, reported Turkey’s daily paper Hürriyet.
To date the EU has been treading carefully because it recognises Turkey is hosting millions of Syrian refugees. In March European law makers called for funds to go directly to support civil society groups instead of the Turkish government.