There are worrying reports that Turkey is about to start drilling in Cyprus’ yet undeclared exclusive economic zone (EEZ), about 60km west of Cyprus. The fact that it is not within Cyprus’ formally declared EEZ may be a relief, but it could potentially be a major destabilising prospect for Cyprus and its energy sector, as well as the plans by Greece and Cyprus to declare EEZ boundaries in the region between Crete, Cyprus, Kastellorizo and Egypt.
Such developments follow increasing threats by Turkey over the last few months, with the aim to create a fait accompli in support of its own claims in the East Med. But also perhaps with the aim to force Cyprus to abandon its own gas exploration and return back to the negotiation table, loaded with Turkish demands.
Turkey does not appear to be fazed by the strong positions taken by the US and the EU requesting it to refrain from any activities that could escalate tension.
According to an article in the Cyprus Mail earlier in the week, on May 2 Assistant Secretary for the bureau of energy resources in the US Department of State, Francis Fannon, commenting on the Turkish threats over its planned drilling activity within Cyprus’ EEZ, said that the US was strongly discouraging any activity that could escalate tension. He even went as far as to say that the US is considering energy as a catalyst for dialogue.
But this like all other similar interventions appear to be falling on deaf ears.
Would anybody intervene to get Turkey to stop such activities? Probably not. Similarly to Turkey, two of the key players, the US and Israel, are also non-signatories of the UN law of the seas UNCLOS.
Turkey has based its claim on its own interpretation of what defines an exclusive economic zone and has launched it with the UN. It is using this to justify its claims and its activities. Even if Cyprus appeals to international courts for arbitration, Turkey is not likely to respond, especially as it does not recognise Cyprus.
Should Turkey proceed with drilling – possibly later including drilling in Cyprus’ declared EEZ but within the areas it claims – and actually make a discovery, the consequences for Cyprus and the region could be immense.
In the face of limited options to head Turkey off or respond to such challenges, apart from strong representations to international bodies, major powers and friendly countries, an option that remains is support to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the resumption of and participation in negotiations to resolve the Cyprus problem.
Source: Cyprus Mail