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Gas drilling, Navtex fuel Turkey-Cyprus tensions in East Med

The escalation of Turkey’s actions in Cyprus' EEZ brings a new dimension that Cyprus can only confront through diplomatic and legal means

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ATHENS – The tensions between Greece and Turkey after an incident in the eastern Aegean appear to have been defused, but the standoff between Ankara and Nicosia continued as Turkish ships are blocking a drilling rig from reaching an area off the Cypriot coast, which has prompted Nicosia to issue a Navtex, including parts of Blocks 3 and 13 of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), for an exercise.

“I am not sure it is just a case of issuing Navtex. I believe that Turkey, emboldened by the inability of the US and Russia to stop its incursion into Afrin in Syria, is using a similar tactic in Cyprus’ EEZ,” Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe on February 16, adding that Ankara appears determined to use its navy to stop drilling in areas which it claims belong to its continental shelf or have been claimed by Turkish Cypriots as part of their EEZ.

“This is despite the fact that neither claim complies with UNCLOS, accepted by the rest of the world, and neither claim is tenable,” Ellinas said.

“These are claims Turkey has launched with the UN and on this basis its position is that there is a ‘dispute’ on EEZs. Until there is a solution of the Cyprus problem, Turkey claims it is safeguarding the interests of Turkish Cypriots,” the Cyprus-based expert said.

Block 3, where ENI’s drilling rig was sailing to before it was stopped, is claimed by Turkish Cypriots to be wholly within their EEZ, Ellinas said, adding that could be another reason why the Turkish navy stopped the rig, in addition to Turkey’s declared Navtex.

Ellinas said he does not expect Turkey to intervene in the planned drilling by US energy giant ExxonMobil in Block 10 during the second half of 2018, “not just because ExxonMobil is American, but also because this block is not included in the areas claimed by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.”

Block 11 is also not included in areas claimed by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots where French energy major Total drilled last year without any incidents.

“However, Blocks 2 and 8, where ENI may drill next, are claimed by the Turkish Cypriots. As a result, I would expect similar actions from Turkey if ENI intends to proceed with drilling in these blocks,” Ellinas said.

The Cyprus-based expert stressed that the escalation of Ankara’s actions in Cyprus’ EEZ brings a new dimension that Cyprus can only confront through diplomatic and legal means.

Turning to international reaction to the Cyprus-Turkey tensions, Ellinas said it was important that Russia made a statement that all interested parties should refrain from taking steps that could escalate tensions in the East Mediterranean, and expressed hope that all will act in accordance with international law in regards to the situation on Cyprus’ EEZ.

“The UN also issued a statement of sympathy with Cyprus, urging a solution to the Cyprus problem so that similar incidents can be avoided. Only the EU responded more strongly, but with no effect so far,” he said.

“Italy and France are using diplomatic means to defuse the situation, but I do not expect them to take stronger actions. And it is not for ENI or Total to take any action other than wait and see. This is a problem to be resolved at the state level,” he said. “It is also likely that once Turkey feels it has made its point, it may back off, provided that drilling in areas it ‘disputes’ is avoided,” Ellinas said.

With a new government in place in Nicosia, the process to resume negotiations on the Cyprus problem appears to have started, Ellinas said, adding that the new Turkish Cypriot administration also seems to be interested in renewing negotiations. “Lets hope that this newfound interest moves in the right direction,” he said stressing that a solution of the Cyprus problem lies ahead.

Defne Sadiklar-Arslan, executive director and representative of Atlantic Council Turkey, told New Europe on February 15 on the sidelines of the Athens Energy Forum 2018 that “as a responsible, big regional player, Turkey also needs to play fair,” adding “not only Turkey, but all parties; i.e. Greece and Cyprus need to be responsible players for a sound solution”.

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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