The president of the European Council Donald Tusk appealed to Turkey on February 12 to avoid threats against Cyprus after the EU member accused the Turkish military of obstructing Italian energy company Eni's gas exploration ship in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus are in conflict over oil and gas exploration off the divided island of Cyprus — the northern part of the island is a Turkish Cypriot state though it has not gained international recognition. Ankara has vowed to take action to prevent the exploration for hydrocarbons around Cyprus and it deployed two frigates and a submarine to monitor drilling activities in July.
Tusk’s comment came after Nicosia said on February 11 that the Turkish military had obstructed a vessel contracted by Eni.
“After my phone call with [Cypriot] President [Nicos] @AnastasiadesCY this evening. I call on Turkey to avoid threats or actions against any EU member and instead commit to good neighbourly relations, peaceful dispute settlement and respect for territorial sovereignty,” Tusk tweeted.
For its part, Turkey argues that the Greek Cypriot administration is not entitled to negotiate and conclude international agreements or adopt laws on the exploitation of natural resources on behalf of the entire island.
In an interview with Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper published on February 4, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey was planning to soon start its own exploration work in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Turkish Cypriots, as co-owners of [Cyprus], possess inalienable rights to the natural resources around it,” Cavusoglu reiterated.
The fresh conflict comes at a time when relations between Brussels and Ankara are extremely strained, though top EU officials are due to meet President President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Varna, Bulgaria on March 26 to discuss EU-Turkey relations and regional and international issues.
The European Parliament on February 8 called on Turkey to lift the state of emergency that has been in effect in the country since the military coup of July 2016 was foiled.
“The resolution adopted by the European Parliament is far from understanding the current conditions Turkey faces,” the Turkish foreign ministry reacted to the European Parliament.
On a more positive note, Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on February 7 that visa-free travel in 2018 would offer fresh momentum to Turkey's relations with the EU.
Cyprus is not the only country to clash with Turkey over exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon are among those in the race for natural resources.
On February 7, Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid warned Turkey not to encroach upon its economic rights in the Eastern Mediterranean in relation to the huge Zohr gas field discovered in 2015.
Egypt signed an accord registered with the United Nations in 2013 that carries a maritime border demarcation agreement with Cyprus and permits gas exploration in the area. Egypt has already started production from the Zohr gas field, discovered by Eni and estimated to have around 30 trillion cubic feet of gas.
On February 8, Eni announced it had made a lean gas discovery in Block 6 Offshore Cyprus. "The discovery confirms the extension of the “Zohr like” play in the Cyprus [Exclusive Economic Zone]," the energy major said.
Cyprus' discovery of offshore gas so far amounts to estimated reserves of over 4 trillion cubic feet valued at over $50bn, CNBC reported in January this year.