Turkey’s ‘illegal’ offshore drilling activities off Cyprus may bring sanctions against it by the European Union (EU).
This was stated by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Thursday, calling on the Commission, and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to submit options for appropriate and targeted measures without delay, following the same decision taken by the EU’s General Affairs Council (GAC) on Tuesday.
“The European Council (EC) underlines the serious immediate negative impact that such illegal actions have across the range of EU-Turkey relations. The EC calls on Turkey to show restraint, respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus and refrain from any such actions,” read the statement released at the end of the summit.
The successive EU moves come after a series of Turkish endeavors.
Fatih, Turkey’s drilling ship which has been anchored about 68 kilometers (42 miles) off the southwestern Cypriot resort town of Paphos, has recently started drilling. A second drilling ship, Yavus was launched on Thursday to the disputed waters for the same purpose, aggravating the tension in the region. Both ships have been escorted by Turkish navy frigates.
Since early May, Turkey has accelerated its oil and gas exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean which strained the relations between Turkey and Cyprus. The Western world, including the United States (US), are rallying behind the latter in the dispute.
Each conflicting side – including the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) – consider the drilling waters their exclusive economic zone (EEZ), claiming a share in any offshore wealth.
The KKTC is a breakaway state in the north of the island recognized only by Turkey.
Establishment of a joint energy committee to discuss the issues on the island’s energy resources and revenues was previously proposed by the KKTC. Turkey backs the proposal, while Cyprus and Greece reject it.
Cyprus and Greece have formed a cooperation bloc with Israel and Egypt which are also involved in drilling for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. The bloc has called on Turkey to support their initiative, however, Turkey rejects it.
On Friday, at the end of the EC summit, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Turkey could face consequences from the EU if it persisted on a course of action challenging Cyprus’s right to explore for gas.
“There is an upsurge in Turkish aggression, something we do not only observe in the relations of Turkey with Greece and Cyprus, but also important countries like the US, and with the EU,” Tsipras told reporters.