TURKEY’S foreign ministry issued an announcement on Friday saying that it would not on any account allow the exploration and drilling for natural gas in Block 6 of the Cypriot EEZ, claiming that this was part of the Turkish continental shelf. Exploration contracts for Block 6 were signed by the ENI-Total consortium on Thursday within the framework of the third licensing round.
Turkey also warned that it would evaluate the stance of companies “co-operating with the Greek Cypriot side, in unilateral activities for hydrocarbons, ignoring the wishes of the Turkish Cypriot side, and take into account this stance in procedures for common energy programmes with Turkey in the immediate future.”
The method of threatening to deprive companies of big contracts with Turkey in the event that they did business with the Cyprus government had often been used in the past, especially when the ministry of defence tried to make arms purchases. And it worked, because most companies would be much more interested in doing business with Turkey of 70 million people than with the puny market of Cyprus. ENI has major operations in Turkey already.
The foreign ministry announcement also said it was “unacceptable and worrying that the Greek Cypriot side was behaving as if it were the sole owner of the island and pursuing its unilateral activities.” It was a repetition of the long-standing Turkish argument, followed by the inevitable conclusion that hydrocarbons should be exploited after there was a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.
A settlement was not essential Turkey said, warning that the only way to use Cyprus’ natural resources would be through a joint administration and an agreement about the sharing of revenue between the two sides. This may be a thinly-veiled threat, but at the same time it offers a way forward with regard to the exploitation of hydrocarbons without a settlement. Not that there would be any Greek Cypriot politician who would support any deal on hydrocarbons with the Turkish Cypriots without a settlement.
It is, however, an option Turkey is willing to discuss, given that the prospects of a settlement are not looking very good. For as long as the talks were progressing, Ankara avoided bringing up the issue, assuming there would be a deal. It largely ignored the start of the third licensing round, but after the signing of the contracts this week, it has reverted to its older policy of threats and warnings.
How the Cyprus government will deal with these, given that it has no way of defending drilling by foreign companies, remains to be seen. A plan is needed because the defiant words of resistance we normally resort to have no value in the real world.