Oct 22 2018

Turkish defence minister issues Cyprus warning

Amid a prolonged period of heightened tensions between Turkey and its neighbours in Greece and Cyprus, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has issued a strong statement signalling Turkey’s intention to continue pursuing its goals in the region.

“No fait accompli or step taken against Turkey in Cyprus, the Aegean or the Eastern Mediterranean will be permitted,” Akar, a former Chief of General Staff of the Turkish Army, said during a round of military exercises near Turkey’s capital city of Ankara.

The statement comes a week after reports that Turkish naval vessels had to intervene after the Turkish survey and drilling vessel, Barbaros, was harassed by a Greek frigate while conducting gas exploration in waters near Cyprus.

The Greek Republic of Cyprus has divided the area it claims in its exclusive economic zone into 13 blocks, the rights to drill in which have provoked high interest due to the potential for huge gas discoveries.

Turkey claims parts of Cyprus’s blocks 1, 4, 6 and 7, areas of which it says lie in Turkey’s continental shelf.

As the only state to formally recognise the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, and one that does not recognise the Greek Cypriot administration, Turkey also supports the Turkish Cypriots’ claims to large parts of the exclusive economic zone, and says drilling by the Greek Cypriots’ partners infringes on their rights.

Last February Turkish naval vessels blocked a research ship chartered by the Italian energy company Eni from its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, and Turkey has maintained a tough stance on the issue since then.

It was in this context that Turkey’s first seismic and drill research vessel set sail earlier this month to conduct gas exploration, reportedly in an area to the west of Cyprus, and while the Turkish side hopes the five-month search for hydrocarbons will yield results that strengthen its claim in the sea, the Greek and Greek Cypriot sides have declared the search to be “illegal” and warned it could lead to crisis.

“I believe that if exploratory drilling will take place in the Kastellorizo area, it can lead to a serious crisis and in this case, Greece will have to act, and this may including military means,” Russian news site Sputnik quoted Andreas Pentaras, a former Cyprus Intelligence Service chief, as saying last week.

Turkey’s relations with Greece have also soured considerably over the past year, partly thanks to the wrangling over Cyprus, but also thanks to a series of incidents starting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration during a visit to Athens last December that the Treaty of Lausanne, which demarcated most of the borders separating Turkey and Greece, needed revision.

Since then tensions have been higher than usual over disputed islets in the Aegean Sea.