The government’s energy plans were dealt a heavy blow last week when Turkey decided to send its Yavuz drillship into offshore block 8 of the Cypriot EEZ, which has been licensed to the Eni and Total oil companies. It was another humiliation inflicted on the Cyprus Republic by Turkey, which claimed the part of block 8 in which it would be drilling was within the ‘continental shelf delimitation agreement’ it had signed with the ‘TRNC’ in 2011. This was the first time it would be drilling in an area claimed not by Turkey, but by the Turkish Cypriot regime.
Irrespective of Turkey’s justification, the fact is the exploratory drilling would take place in a block for which foreign companies have paid millions of euro to the government to secure an exploitation licence. Through this flagrant illegality, Ankara aimed to show oil companies that contracts for gas exploration signed with the Republic are of questionable validity because Turkey not only has claims on blocks in the Cypriot EEZ, but also has the power to take control of them.
In this way it has also advertised its complete disregard for international law, just in case any company thought legality may have been a consideration for President Erdogan. Why would it be when there is no cost to it? If there is any cost to Turkey’s actions it will be shouldered by the Cyprus government, which may have to return the licensing money to the oil companies because blocks they had paid for were being claimed by a third party, in violation of the contracts signed. An oil company would not be able to sue Turkey because the contract was signed with the Republic.
What has hurt the Anastasiades government even more is that its hydrocarbons narrative has been exposed to the Cypriot public as little more than a communications game without the happy ending it had been sold by the president and his foreign minister, Nicos Christodoulides, who regularly boasts about Cyprus’ strategic role as major energy player in the region. Assertions that it was in complete control of the narrative thanks to the licensing of offshore blocks to big oil companies from powerful countries, the much-trumpeted trilateral agreements, its close cooperation with Israel and dubious plans for the East Med pipeline appeared convincing.
Turkey has destroyed this narrative with its illegal activities, first preventing an ENI drillship from reaching its drilling target, subsequently sending its own drillship into the Cypriot EEZ for exploratory drilling and then invading offshore blocks licensed to foreign companies. The previous month’s delimitation agreement with Libya was another illustration of Erdogan’s insistence on showing that he was calling the shots in the region, but it was in addition aimed at provoking Greece that was also party to Cyprus’ regional energy plans.
The Cyprus government had no response to these aggressive tactics, apart from constantly condemning Turkey’s violations on international law and securing statements censuring this behaviour by the EU and countries like the US. Repeated assurances about EU targeted sanctions against Turkey, given by Christodoulides, have not materialised in the way the government was hoping. And on Tuesday Anastasiades put the matter to rest by saying we should not have illusions that the EU would take tough measures against Turkey.
So how would the government pursue its energy planning in the light of these developments? It does not know, as it has demonstrated in the last few days. The government spokesman claimed data for block 8 had been stolen by Turkey only to retract this the next day saying it was a slip of the tongue. Anastasiades announced he had made a call to Chancellor Angela Merkel to ask her to tell Erdogan, whom she was scheduled to meet later in the week, to end Turkey’s illegal activities, while Christodoulides complained during television appearances that he was the target of an organised campaign by Akel.
The criticism, to which the rest of the parties also contributed, was well-deserved because the current mess, which carries many dangers for the country, is exclusively of the government’s making. Its energy policy was a series of gross miscalculations, the biggest one being that Erdogan would sit back and allow the Cyprus government to make plans for the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean and exclude Turkey. This was monumentally naïve as was the belief that Turkey would be stopped by our trilateral allies, the EU and countries of the oil companies that have exploration rights.
The big question is, what happens now? Will oil companies go ahead with this year’s scheduled exploratory drilling (Eni has already put back planned drilling for now by a few months)? What if the Yavuz drillship finds a rich seam of natural gas in Block 8? We have no answers, but more worrying is that neither does the government. We can only hope the situation will not take a turn for the worse.