Cyprus on October 4 accused Turkey of a “severe escalation” in violating its sovereign rights by sending a drill ship to an area Nicosia has licensed for offshore hydrocarbons exploration.
Attention switched from northern Syria—where Ankara risks upsetting the US if it follows through on threats to unilaterally set up a “safe zone” to form a buffer against what it claims are Pentagon-backed “terrorist” Kurdish militia—to Cyprus where the chances of a dangerous clash with the Greek Cypriots rose after Turkey confirmed it had sent an oil and gas drilling ship to waters off southern Cyprus covered by exploration rights awarded by Nicosia to Italy’s Eni and France’s Total.
The Cypriot presidency put out a strongly-worded statement, accusing Ankara of “bullying tactics of an era long gone”. It called on Turkey to withdraw its assets from the area, claimed by the Republic of Cyprus to be within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“Utterly provocative and aggressive”
“This new provocation is exemplary of Turkey’s defiance of the European Union’s, and the international community’s, repeated calls to cease its illegal activities,” it said. “It is yet another proof of the utterly provocative and aggressive behaviour of Ankara, which has chosen to speedily and irreversibly depart from international legality, thus putting security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean at risk.”
Reuters reported that by the morning of October 4, Turkey’s drill ship, the Yavuz, had stopped around 51 nautical miles southwest of Cyprus. Turkey has already drilled two wells in waters to the island’s east and west. That exploration activity drew strong protests from Nicosia and Brussels.
Turkey claims some of the areas where Cyprus is exploring are either on its own continental shelf or are in zones where the Turkish Cypriots, who run a breakaway state in the north of Cyprus only recognised by Turkey, have equal rights over any identified resources with the Greek Cypriots.
Greek PM: Turkey “exploiting” migrant crisis
Separately, in Greece Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on October 4 told the Greek parliament that Turkey appeared to be attempting to “exploit” Europe’s migrant crisis for its own ends. He said Ankara could and should control migrant flows to the continent.
Greece, used as the route to the European bloc by nearly a million refugees and migrants four years ago, is experiencing a new and steep rise in people crossing the Aegean to its islands from neighbouring Turkey. The difficulty comes after a relative three-year lull and is causing a fresh crisis for already massively overcrowded migrant camps.
“I want to be absolutely clear,” Mitsotakis said. “Turkey... must also assume its responsibility. It has the ability to control the flows in the Aegean. It cannot give the impression that it is exploiting this issue for its own geopolitical pursuits.”
Turkey presently hosts around 3.6mn Syrian refugees which it allows to stay partly under a deal with the EU which provides it with funds to deal with migrant needs. It has threatened to “open the gates” unless it receives what it considers to be sufficient international support for a plan to resettle one million refugees in northern Syria in the “safe zone” it wishes to jointly set up with the US—or alone if requested help from Washington is not forthcoming.