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June 18, 2019

Retaliation threats over drilling

We have entered the stage of retaliation threats over Turkish drilling activities to the west of Cyprus, between Turkey and Turkish Cypriots on the one side and Greek Cypriots and the EU on the other. 

Bloomberg has seen one draft version of a statement, to be approved by EU foreign affairs ministers today, saying that the EU is freezing negotiations over the modernisation of the customs union between the EU and Turkey, reiterating that accession negotiations have come to a standstill, and threatening that further escalation is possible as the EU stands by Cyprus on this matter. The wording can still change, and we note at this stage that an escalation towards sanctions is in nobody's interest. Turkey has too much going on and the EU does not want to damage the mutual relationship completely as Turkey is the gatekeeper for millions of Syrian refugees on Turkish soil who would otherwise have tried to reach Europe.

The Greek defence minister, a Navy admiral, played down the threat of an escalation saying that he does not expect another hot incident in the Mediterranean. Still, events may intrude and as Cyprus seems to have secured the backing from the EU and the US, Turkey could be isolated. After all there are large economic interests at stake. Whether Recep Tayyip 0Erdogan is bothered by EU threats is another matter, after all EU membership no longer has the strategic importance than it used to have and he commands a perfect potential with the migrants to threaten the EU. So any threat from the EU could end up to be an own goal and serve Erdogan in this blame game. 

Tensions in divided Cyprus are not new. The president of the Turkish Cypriots Mustafa Akinci warned the Greek Cypriots not to increase the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean or risk retaliation. He said the situation was a result of the Greek Cypriots going solo on exploring the gas fields, insisting that the natural resources belong to all of Cyprus. His remarks come after the Greek Cypriot administration issued an international arrest warrant for 25 people including the personnel of the Turkish drillship.

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