Defending Turkey's interests in the Eastern Mediterranean

Published 10.07.2019 00:44
Updated 10.07.2019 00:45

The Eastern Mediterranean is increasingly becoming more and more important for both regional actors and global powers. For Turkey, the region, which became a source of threat after the unilateral activities of other regional countries, is significant in many ways. Turkey has to develop geographical, diplomatic, legal, economic and military strategies toward the region in order to be able to protect the interests of both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots. The most recent step is very important in this context. Turkey has established the Coordinating Agency for Cyprus Affairs. A vice president or a minister will be in charge of this agency, which aims to ensure full coordination of Turkey's relations with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots are forced to maintain the balance in the region in order to defend their interests. The two Turkish drillships, namely the Yavuz and the Fatih, began to search for hydrocarbon resources in the region.

Greece and the Greek Cypriot side has been trying to prevent this via threats and deterrence. They have been following a three-track diplomatic strategy, namely bilateral, regional and international. At the bilateral level, the Greek side tries to deter Turkey not to enter the region. They undermine Turkey's rights in the context of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf.

They try to exploit the related principles of international law; the Greek Cypriot administration issued international arrest warrants for 25 people including workers on the Turkish drillship in waters off the coast of Cyprus as well as several officials from companies working with the Turkish Petroleum Corporation.

At the regional level, the Greek side has been trying to mobilize other regional countries against Turkey. It takes advantage of the regional atmosphere, tries to establish an anti-Turkish regional bloc and thus isolate Turkey in the region by cooperating with Israel and Egypt. The establishment of the Mediterranean Energy Forum is the most significant indication of this attempt at isolation.

At the international level, the Greek side tries to mobilize Europe-wide support against Turkey. As a matter of fact, they are successful in mobilizing the European Union for their interests.

Ultimately, almost all EU explanations regarding the region are pro-Greek. For instance, the EU authorities recently explained that they are concerned about Turkey's drilling activities in the region, claiming that Ankara's activities violate the sovereignty of the Greek Cypriots and thus increases tension.

However, Turkey will never give up its economic, political and military activities because the region is vital for Turkey's national sovereignty. Any development in the region directly influences Turkish national interests.

Therefore, the Turkish authorities are careful in responding to any anti-Turkish developments. The Turkish side prioritizes bilateral negotiations and calls on the other side to respect the principles of international law.

Otherwise, Turkey is ready to speak the same language and mobilize its military power to deter others. In this context, the battleships and jets of the Turkish Navy and Turkish Air Force began patrols in the region.

Furthermore, Turkey has sent its domestically made Bayraktar Tactical Block 2 (TB2) armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the region in order to provide full protection for its ships operating in the region. This move alone provided strategic support to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and has caused some kind of shock for other regional actors.

In his statement in Geneva, TRNC Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay emphasized that the two Turkish drillships aim to restore the regional balance and protect regional peace and stability.

He pointed out that the Turkish side is on the ground and will remain in the region to exercise their rights emanating from international law.

Turkey has increased its capacity and ability to operate on the tactical, operative and strategic levels, especially with their armed UAVs stationed aboard Turkish naval ships operating in the conflict zone.

The latest developments have shown one more time that Turkey is one of the most effective countries and a game changer in the region, enjoying deterrent power. Turkey is determined not to allow any fait accompli, i.e., unilateral drilling activities of the Greek side, and to contest any economic and military steps in the region. Eventually, Turkey will continue exploration and research activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

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