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Our View: Cyprus being forced into a corner by gunboat diplomacy

On board the Yavuz

Turkey’s decision to send its Yavuz drillship into the Cypriot EEZ southwest of the island that also includes part of block 7 is another illustration of Ankara’s policy of raising the ante. These illegal, aggressive acts are often presented as legitimate, in this case, the Turkish government claiming the Yavuz would be carrying out exploratory drilling on its continental shelf, which nevertheless was some 200km from its coastline and only 50km from Cyprus’.

This time it is not claiming it is defending the interests of the Turkish Cypriots that had been denied a share of the island’s natural resources by the Cyprus government, but stating it would be drilling on its continental shelf. It also circulated a statement by its foreign ministry from last month which objected to the licensing agreement for block 7 by the Cyprus Republic and the Eni-Total consortium, insisting that part of the block was within its own continental shelf which “has been registered with the United Nations.” Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, “for us it’s a matter of national sovereignty.”

When it is not a matter of national sovereignty, it is a matter of the interests of the Turkish Cypriots. First, it sent the Fatih into the Cypriot EEZ east of Paphos to carry out exploratory drilling, claiming the area was part of its continental shelf while the Yavuz subsequently embarked on gas explorations off the Karpas peninsula, in defence of the Turkish Cypriot claims to natural resources. The violations of the Cypriot EEZ are also accompanied by a show of force. Turkey’s energy minister Fatih Donmez on Thursday posted a photograph of the Yavuz, accompanied by two warships on Twitter to underline the fact that Turkey had the military and naval power to do as it pleases.

In Cyprus, the government and the political parties responded with the usual verbal condemnation of Turkey’s latest provocation. The party leaders condemned Turkey’s illegal actions, said Government Spokesman Prodromos Prodromou after Friday’s national council meeting because he had to say something. Unfortunately, this harsh reality cannot be tackled with strong-worded condemnations by our political leadership. Asked what was being done to counter the latest Turkish provocation after the meeting, Prodromou said the government was “utilising all legal, political and diplomatic means at our disposal.”

The harsh reality all legal, political and diplomatic means at its disposal when the Fatih was carrying out exploratory drilling 60km off Paphos achieved next to nothing. On the contrary, Turkey sent a second drillship despite the mildly disapproving statements issued by some states, the anodyne measures imposed on Turkey by the EU and the arrest warrants issued against people working on drilling support ships accompanying the Fatih. Meanwhile, the trilateral agreements with neighbouring countries, which the government has played up, claiming they strengthened Cyprus’ position in the area have also been shown to have little practical value. Our trilateral ally, Israel did not even issue a routine condemnation of Turkey’s violations of our EEZ.

For now, we are told that President Anastasiades had spoken to the President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker asking that Turkey’s latest violation be on the agenda of the European Council. It is very doubtful sanctions will be imposed on Turkey, which just a few days ago was being praised to high heaven by Commission officials for its co-operation with EU on the Syrian refugees’ issue. Nor has anything been said by France or Italy, the companies of which, Eni and Total, have paid for licensing rights on block 7. The licensing contract was signed with the Cyprus Republic, which they will hold accountable for failing to honour its part of the deal, not Turkey.

We have said this before and will repeat it: the only way to stop Turkey’s violations is a settlement of the Cyprus problem that would also allow an agreement on the region’s natural resources. Without a settlement, Turkey will not enter discussions with the Cyprus Republic on delineating respective EEZs and will carry on disputing and violating the Cypriot EEZ, causing instability and security threats we do not want. This may be unfair, a case of bowing to gunboat diplomacy, but is there any other option? When Cyprus reported Turkey’s earlier violations to the UN, the response did not reprimand Turkey’s action but urged the two sides to reach a settlement on the Cyprus problem.

Turkey has successfully managed to impose the narrative that its violations of the Cypriot EEZ are an inevitable consequence of Anastasiades’ unwillingness to agree to a Cyprus settlement which would end the ongoing dispute. The government’s use of all its diplomatic, legal and political means, it appears has failed to offer an alternative, credible narrative, which is why Turkey does as it pleases.

 


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