ANKARA: The Turkish government has reacted strongly to the European Council’s criticism of Turkey’s drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In the final declaration of its videoconference on April 23, the council said: “The illegal drilling activities by Turkey in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone were raised by some member states. We expressed our full solidarity with Cyprus and recalled and reaffirmed our previous conclusions on this matter.”
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly released a statement, arguing that the declaration was written “with an obsolete understanding of union solidarity.” Turkey has repeatedly claimed over the years that the EU could not act as an impartial mediator between itself and Cyprus because the southern part of Cyprus is a member of the EU.
“This part of the declaration is yet another example of the fact that the EU, contrary to international law and its own acquis, is being exploited by the Greek Cypriot-Greek duo and has become a mouthpiece for their maximalist policies. The EU should now understand that no result can be achieved with this understanding,” Ankara’s statement said, adding that Turkey intended to continue drilling “to protect both its own rights and the Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Last week, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced that Turkey’s two drillships and two research vessels were continuing their Eastern Mediterranean-based activities, with the Turkish navy providing security from the air and sea.
On Wednesday, Turkey also issued a navigational telex (NAVTEX) for drilling operations off Cyprus by its drillship Yavuz, stating that it will be anchored until July 18.
Dimitar Bechev, nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, thinks the ongoing disputes in the region are likely to be exploited for domestic purposes in Turkey.
“The EU is focused on the coronavirus crisis and will likely not escalate (the matter),” he told Arab News. “However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might well exploit tensions to shore up his domestic base at a time when his authority is challenged due to COVID-19.”
Although the pandemic provided a pause in the deep disagreements regarding the Eastern Mediterranean, the EU has recently increased its criticism of Turkey’s drilling activities.
EU spokesman Peter Stano told the Cyprus News Agency last week that “the European Union will respond with more sanctions against Turkey if it continues illegal energy drilling in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone. There has been no change in the EU’s position on illegal Turkish actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, so the EU’s position is clear (and) unchanging.”
In February, the EU imposed asset freezes and entry bans on two top officials from the state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation who were involved in Turkey’s hydrocarbon exploration and drilling activities in disputed Eastern Mediterranean waters.
Turkey claims that certain zones under Cyprus’ offshore maritime zone fall under the jurisdiction of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots in the north of the island.
Having applied for EU membership in 1987 and begun its accession talks in 2005, negotiations between Ankara and Brussels stalled in 2007 mainly due to the objections of Cyprus, with which Turkey does not have diplomatic relations.