Dangerous games in the Eastern Mediterranean

Published 27.06.2019 23:58
Updated 28.06.2019 00:06

Tensions have renewed in Eastern Mediterranean waters. International powers want to keep Turkey out of the rich gas potential in the area, and Turkey has rightly reacted to the isolating move.

Ankara has sent a second drillship as an answer to the isolation in the region's gas rivalry while also trying to push diplomatically to gain allies.

The second drillship is called the Yavuz. It was bought by the Turkish state-owned petroleum company for $262 million in October and launched with a big ceremony on June 20.

It is sailing now over the Aegean Sea and aims to reach Famagusta Bay in three weeks to start exploratory drilling off Karpaz Peninsula to reach 3,000 meters in depth. The expedition has been on the books for the last four months and later, it will meet up with Turkey's research vessel Barbaros Hayreddin in August.

Where are the areas causing tension? Are there overlapping points? Let me remind you of the previous problems.

The drillship Fatih is moving to the west of Cyprus accompanied by two Turkish military frigates and three gunboats. It will explore the south, as well; however, here Greek Cypriots claim to have given exploration rights to an Italian ship, Eni, which also is being escorted by a Turkish military frigate.

There were problems with Eni last year. Turkish military vessels stopped a drillship operated by Eni because it was operating in an area overlapping that of the Turkish main exploration company TPAO, which was granted access by Turkish Cypriots.

Now, since Yavuz is also heading to the area, tension may escalate even further. As a reminder: over the last six months, Greece and Greek Cypriots have tried to isolate Turkey in the region in many ways. A couple weeks ago, Greek Cypriots prepared arrest warrants for Fatih's foreign crew, claiming that they cooperated with Turkish authorities in drilling efforts in Greek Cypriot waters. They have even sought to enforce these warrants through Interpol.

It is clear that Greek Cyprus is trying to criminalize Turkish exploration efforts while also trying to persuade the EU to do the same. Last week, EU leaders threatened Turkey with sanctions if it continued drilling in Cypriot waters.

On the other hand, in the U.S., a bill to lift a U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus and initiate energy cooperation between Israel, Greece and Cyprus was submitted to the Senate in early April. Greek Cypriots are working hard diplomatically to gain ground against Turkey. In a similar effort, they have reached an understanding between France and them to have a permanent base.

After that French President Emmanuel Macron's statement warning Turkey to "stop its illegal activities" came.

In short, Western powers are trying to push Turkey out of the region, which is totally absurd and unjust. Turkey is the biggest country sitting on those waters and outside actors aim to sweep in, even from as far away as the U.S. or France, to gain access to the gas and leave Turkey out.

This is a dangerous game. Ankara is trying decisively to engage in drilling efforts and break this isolation. Here, Turkey's multidimensional foreign policy plays the most vital role. It shows international powers that Ankara has the power to operate in its own interest.

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