Nicosia accused of blocking new Russia sanctions amid Turkey drilling row

Cyprus is blocking new EU sanctions against several officials from Russia-annexed Crimea as part of a move to secure EU backing for tougher action against Turkey over its drilling for hydrocarbons in the east Mediterranean, Reuters reported on Friday citing three diplomatic sources.

Nicosia has rejected the claim linking the two issues and said it needed time to review the proposed measures against the Crimean officials, it said. 

Cyprus, backed by the EU, accuses Turkey of illegally drilling in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone, but Ankara maintains parts of the area belong to it own continental shelf. 

The EU in July announced planned measures against Turkey over the drilling, including cutting funding, limiting European Investment Bank lending, suspension of ongoing negations over an aviation agreement, as well as sanctions.

The 28-member bloc has also agreed to blacklist more officials in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, with sanctions requiring unanimous support from all 28-member states, Reuters said.

Cyprus has moved to block the process at the technical level, it said citing sources.

“The way Cyprus is hijacking the Russia listings has deeply irritated its friends and partners around the table. It is all the more surprising since Cyprus has enjoyed unparalleled solidarity from its EU partners over the last few months (in the dispute with Turkey),” Reuters quoted one EU diplomat as saying. 

“The Cypriots want to have sanctions on Turkey for drilling and have been frustrated that it is taking time,” the second diplomat told Reuters. “This is why they are meddling with the Crimea listings.”

Cyprus, for its part, says there is no connection made between the two sanctions regimes. 

“We are in the process of reviewing the information provided with regard to the Ukraine sanctions,” Demetris Samuel, Cypriot foreign ministry spokesman, told Reuters.

“Our aim is to see the (EU decisions) implemented. We feel that it is important... to expedite and finalize this work with regards to the listings,” Samuel added.

“Everything depends on Cyprus and whether they will drop their objections,” a third diplomat said, adding that he maintained hope that the list of sanctioned Crimean officials would be approved “early next week’’.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north in response to a Greek Cypriot coup aiming to unite the island with Greece. Since then, the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus has controlled the southern two-thirds of the island, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, only recognised by Turkey, the northern third.