Greece, Cyprus will push EU to sanction Turkey for East Med drilling

If Turkey is found to have started drilling for gas in Cyprus’ exclusive zone, Greece and Cyprus will urge the European Union to sanction Turkey, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday, Reuters reported.

Last month, a Turkish drill ship anchored in an area west of Cyprus that Athens and Nicosia say encroaches on Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Turkey says the area is on its continental shelf.

“We have agreed ... to prepare the ground in the coming week that the (European Union) summit take the relevant decisions, even sanctions against Turkey, if it is verified that there has been a drill (by Turkey) in the Cypriot EEZ,” Tsipras told reporters, according to Reuters.

On Monday, a spokesman for the Nicosia government said that Ankara had escalated the situation, calling it illegal aggression. “Even without drilling, Turkey’s stance constitutes a violation of international law, an attack on the Republic of Cyprus,” said government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou.

Also on Monday, Turkey’s Defence Ministry announced that it would host Greek officials this week to improve coordination and the Aegean and establish confidence-building measures.

The discovery in recent years of significant energy reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has heightened long-standing tensions between Turkey, which is the only country that recognises the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia, which is close to Athens and an EU member.

Writing in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini last week, former Prime Minister Costas Simitis warned of the possibility of conflict with Turkey.

He referred to the 1996 Imia Crisis that brought the two neighbours to the brink of war over two uninhabited islets just after he took office. Back then, Turkey sought to take advantage of Greece’s political instability, and right now Athens is without a government.

“It is not excluded that similar designs are harboured by the present Turkish leadership,” wrote Simitis, adding that the most significant factor today is the gas reserves found off Cyprus. “Turkey could decide that this period provides an opening to impose its views on the delineation of both Greece's territorial waters and continental shelf.”