New Greek government condemns Turkish drilling off Cyprus

Greece’s new government condemned Turkey’s drilling inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and urged Ankara to end its violation of international law, the Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported. 

“We condemn Turkey's attempted illegal drilling within the territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus,” the Greek Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We express our full solidarity with the Republic of Cyprus and we call once again on Turkey to immediately cease its illegal activities and to respect the sovereignty and sovereign rights of Cyprus.”

Turkey claims that areas within Cyprus' EEZ fall within its own continental shelf. On Monday, Turkey’s second drill ship arrived off the coast of Cyprus and is set to begin exploratory drilling for natural gas within days. The first Turkish ship was dispatched in May and has been anchored west of Cyprus since last month.

The Greek ministry said such activity was incompatible with a country that wants to join the EU and reaffirmed the validity of the European Council's decision to consider adopting appropriate measures against Ankara, said Kathimerini. Taking the reins from his predecessor Giorgos Katrougalos, new Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias on Tuesday said Athens "will safeguard the interests of the country".

On Wednesday, EU government envoys are set to meet in Brussels to discuss measures against Turkey for its drilling activities, which could include cutting pre-accession funding, suspending agreements and even sanctions.

The United States on Tuesday said Turkey’s dispatch of a second drillship to Cyprus was a provocative step that could heighten tensions and called on Turkish authorities to halt drilling operations.

Egypt, which signed a maritime border demarcation agreement with Cyprus in 2013 to search for oil, also expressed concerns over Turkey’s activities and increased tensions in the region. 

Egypt “stressed the importance of non-escalation and commitment to respecting and implementing international law.” A Foreign Ministry statement on Tuesday said Cairo was concerned over Turkey’s “insistence to continue with unilateral measures that would increase tensions in the eastern Mediterranean region”.

Turkey has been finding itself increasingly marginalised in the east Mediterranean, as Cyprus is also cooperating with Israel and Italy, along with Egypt. In January Cairo hosted leaders from the Republic of Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Egypt, Italy, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories who attended a gas forum for the eastern Mediterranean.