Turkey’s March 21 announcement that it is to send a drill ship to waters off Cyprus could worsen a showdown over natural gas and oil deposits. US energy company ExxonMobil has already sent its own survey vessels to the area.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made it plain he is not prepared to let the Greek Cypriots alone exploit the deposits. In February, Turkish warships conducted a blockade to prevent drilling operations planned with ENI drill ship Saipem 12000, an Italian energy company commissioned by Cyprus’s government. Ankara says the self-proclaimed Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus should also be allowed to exploit the hydrocarbon resources.
“Hopefully [the deployment of the drillship] has been instructive for some who saw an opportunity to act unilaterally when Turkey is engaged in anti-terrorism operations elsewhere [particularly in Syria],” Erdogan said on March 22.
If unlocked, the potentially vast resources around Cyprus could greatly reduce Europe’s – and Turkey’s – dependence on Russia for gas, but the clash over ownership of the deposits has dampened optimism that they can be smoothly accessed.
“Our approach is to keep calm and go on,” a Cypriot government spokesman, Prodromos Prodromou, was quoted as saying by the Guardian. “We cannot accept Turkey interfering and creating problems in what, as underlined by the EU, is a sovereign right to exploit our natural wealth.”
“We are heading for a full-blown crisis in the eastern Mediterranean,” Hubert Faustmann, professor of political science at the University of Nicosia, added in the newspaper’s report. “And that is because Turkey is determined not to allow exploitation of any resources without its consent and participation of Turkish Cypriots.”
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