Europe: Turkey Pokes and Prods Over Cyprus

2 MINS READFeb 15, 2018 | 19:29 GMT

The waters of the Eastern Mediterranean have been heating up in the wake of disputes among the many countries active in the region. On Feb. 11, Cyprus announced that the Turkish military was holding exercises that blocked a ship operated by Italian oil and gas company Eni. Cyprus had hired the company to drill in its waters, which Turkey claims as its own. Then on Feb. 12, a Turkish patrol boat ran into a Greek coast guard ship that was anchored off the islands of Imia/Kardak, claimed by both Greece and Turkey. In response to both events, the European Union issued a statement asking Turkey to "refrain from any actions that might damage good neighborly" ties.

Now, there has been new progress. Seeming to acknowledge the EU request, both Greece and Turkey on Feb. 14 withdrew their ships from the Imia islets region in an effort to ease tensions. But the dispute between Cyprus and Turkey over the drilling blocks remains in play. Cyprus is exploring several Eastern Mediterranean oil blocks in an area that the international community views as Cyprus' exclusive economic zone. Turkey, on the other hand, says the blocks are part of its territory, which is why it announced the military exercises in the area. In response, Cyprus on Feb. 14 announced plans for live-fire military drills set for Feb. 15, though it's not clear if its navy is following through with those. Both the Cypriot and Turkish navies are present in the disputed waters, while the drilling ships are still unable to reach the blocks they intend to explore. 

These incidents are part of a long-running struggle in the Mediterranean that has been exacerbated by Cyprus' success in finding oil and natural gas in the disputed waters. Perhaps foreshadowing the recent events, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during the week of Feb. 4 that Turkey was prepared to take "all necessary measures" to protect Turkish (and Turkish Cypriot) ownership of the continental shelf in the eastern Aegean Sea. Turkey has indeed been taking expansionist action in the waters, and as Cyprus continues to discover oil in the area, that aggressive behavior may well increase.

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