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Our View: International law can be violated with impunity by countries like Turkey

The Turkish drillship Yavuz which has violated the island's EEZ on several occasions

The Turkish drillship Yavuz left port on Sunday heading for the Cypriot EEZ, where it will reportedly carry out more illegal drilling. Turkey had issued a Navtex covering the area of Blocks 6 and 7 that will be in place for three months, until July 18.

The Cyprus government responded to the news with the usual statement about Turkey’s “pirate act that is a blatant violation of the sovereign right and jurisdiction of the Republic of Cyprus, in violation of international law.”

Nobody, apart from Turkey, disputes this line, but it is not very effective in preventing the violations of international law. As the presidency said in its statement issued on Monday, this was the sixth Turkish drilling planned in the last year. This is confirmation that international law can be violated with impunity by countries like Turkey.

The matter will be discussed in a video conference of EU foreign ministers on Wednesday and also raised during a European Council video conference on Thursday by President Anastasiades. So far, the EU has condemned Ankara’s actions and imposed some innocuous sanctions on Turkey, which have failed to stop the violations.

This time, with European leaders all focused on dealing with the pandemic and its devastating consequences on economies, little can be expected by Cyprus other than the routine statement condemning Turkey’s actions. They may even consider the matter of nuisance value at a time when much more important issues relating to the future of the world have to be discussed.

Unfortunately, there is very little for the Cyprus government to do in the current conditions, which are working in Turkey’s favour. ExxonMobil has put its drilling programme in Block 10 back by a year, which means no work will be done in 2020, while Eni and Total are expected to do the same although there has been no official announcement yet. Eni and Total were to carry out exploratory drilling in Block 6, Yavuz’s stated destination.

The pandemic, which has made oil prices hit rock bottom and forced big oil companies to change their drilling plans, has worked in Turkey’s favour, because its drilling plans are shaped by political rather than business considerations. It might make no economic sense to carry out drilling in current conditions, but Turkey’s primary objective is to assert its power in the region and carry on challenging, by practical steps, the Cyprus Republic’s right to delineate its EEZ.

These actions must be stopped, but our government is having great difficulty finding the way, if it exists, of doing this.

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