What Happened: A Turkish ship on May 3 began drilling in a disputed section of the Mediterranean Sea claimed by both Cyprus and the Turkey-recognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, prompting the United States and the European Union to issue statements calling for Turkey to stop its drilling, EUobserver reported May 6. In response to the European Union's statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry replied on May 4 that "We will protect our own rights and interests within our continental shelf, as well as those of the Turkish Cypriots."
Why It Matters: This incident provides yet another sign of dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean over energy exploration in sometimes overlapping exclusive economic zones. The United States is supporting cooperative energy exploration for Cyprus, Israel and Egypt to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas, which serves as a way for Washington to remain influential in the competitive Eastern Mediterranean but also factors into ongoing friction with Turkey.
Background: Turkey warned foreign energy companies in November 2018 against helping the Cypriot government, with which it has had a longstanding conflict, conduct exploratory drilling. Recently, U.S. senators introduced a bipartisan bill lifting an arms embargo on Cyprus to help shore up the country's military position in comparison to Turkey's. This is part of an ongoing trend in which Turkey has faced criticism from the United States and NATO over numerous foreign policy moves, including its military plans in Syria and the purchase of a missile defense system from Russia.
- Cyprus: Another Offshore Discovery Will Intensify a Regional Struggle Over Energy (Feb. 28, 2019)
- Turkey's Relationship With the EU: It's Complicated (March 23, 2018)
- The Eastern Mediterranean's New Great Game Over Natural Gas (Feb. 22, 2018)