As the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar warned Greece on Jan. 23 to stop arming the 16 Aegean islands close to Turkey in violation of international agreements, Ankara is now in preparation for new steps to counter moves by Greece and its partners in the eastern Mediterranean energy row. According to a high rank Turkish official, Ankara will not permit foreign fishing boats –not only gas and oil drill ships- in its continental shelf in eastern Mediterranean, if it decided to declare its continental shelf as exclusive economic zone. Çağatay Erciyes, the Director General for Bilateral Political and Maritime, Aviation, Border Affairs of the Turkish Foreign Ministry said during a workshop in the Ankara University that if the government makes such a decision, foreign fishing boats in Turkey’s exclusive zone will be stopped by Turkish security forces and towed to the port of Antalya.
The statement came after the European Union (EU) urged Turkey to stop drilling in the economic exclusive zone of the Republic of Cyrpus declared by the Greek Cypriot government and threatened the EU candidate country with sanctions. The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was quoted as saying that those sanctions might include adding Turkish individuals and businesses responsible for “illegal drilling” on a sanctions “blacklist.” The EU reaction came after drill ship “Yavuz” owned by Turkish Petroleum Company (TPAO) was sent to the south of the island, escorted by a Turkish navy frigate in a sector which was licenced by the Turkish Cypriot government of the divided island. Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy has said that in the “licenced area, as the co-owners of the island, Turkish Cypriots have rights as much as the Greek Cypriots. Should oil and gas be found in the area, both parties will share the revenue together.”
There are a number of overlapping sectors licenced by Greek and Turkish Cypriot governments separately.
New tension in eastern Mediterranean
According to an agreement between the Greek Cypriot government and American Noble Energy, Israeli Belek and lesser partners in 2019, the companies will get a 55 percent share of the revenue from any natural resource findings and the Turkish Cypriot government claims the remaining 45 percent should be shared between the two communities, not only be received by the Greek Cypriots. Earlier, there was a similar agreement with Exxon and Qatar Petroleum.
The outlook means another source of tension in the Mediterranean in addition to Syria and Libya.
Greek, Greek Cypriot, Israeli and Egyptian governments convened a Mediterranean Gas Forum on Jan. 17 in Cairo, hosted by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, an event dismissed by Turkey as a vain attempt to exclude Turkey, a major eastern Mediterranean actor from the energy outlook of the region. The four countries, which French has applied to join, was also reacting to a Memorandum of Understanding signed by President Tayyip Erdoğan and the U.N.-recognized Fayez Al Sarraj government of Libya to set a new sea border between the two countries on Nov. 27. That was followed by a security agreement between Turkey and Libya on security cooperation on Dec. 14. That led the way to a Turkish parliamentary voting, permitting government to send troops to Libya in support of the Sarraj government on Jan. 2 and a joint call for ceasefire by Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Istanbul on Jan. 8 to fighting parties in Libya. That upset those four countries, which have been supporting the rebel Khalifa Haftar forces with the financial and military backing of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The gas forum was organized two days before the Berlin Conference for Libya on Jan. 19 with the initiative of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Before the Libya row, Turkey and Greece were already in a debate over continental shelf and exclusive economic zone matters in eastern Mediterranean. Saying that Turkey with one of the longest shores to the Mediterranean Sea will not accept the attempt to cut itself off from the open seas, President Erdoğan told the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during the U.N. General Assembly in September, 2019 and the NATO Summit in London in December that a “fair solution” should be worked out in between and also with the dialogue of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot governments.
Will EU sanctions work?
In answer to questions whether the EU sanctions will deter Turkey from oil and gas explorations in disputed areas, Ambassador Erciyes of Turkish Foreign Ministry said with or without sanctions Turkey would never paddle back “from protecting the rights of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”
“If the Greek Cypriots would not have attempted to seize the rights of Turkish Cypriots,” Erciyes added, “We as Turkey would not have decided to go to the south of island, in line with our cooperation agreements with the TRNC. We still say that dialogue channels are open and we can talk that out.”
Meanwhile in Ankara, the dominating belief is that an EastMed gas pipeline is feasible to be built and the shortest and cheapest way to transport Israeli and Cypriot gas to the EU markets would be to use the Turkish pipeline network. Ankara also believes that it would be very hard for Egypt to accept the maritime delimitation suggestions by Greece since its narrows both the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone of Egypt, but if Cairo recognizes the Turkish-Libya agreement, this enlarges the Egyptian zone in the Mediterranean from 65.000 square kilometres to 101.000.