Turkey’s Energy Minister Fatih Donmez and Ersin Tatar, ‘prime minister’ of the breakaway state in Turkish-occupied Cyprus, are seen on board the Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus on August 6.
Not only is Turkey continuing its activities in the wider region around Cyprus, but it has declared that it is scaling them up by sending another research vessel to the area. Such a development is not particularly surprising, as Turkey has for many years expressed in several ways the importance of the Eastern Mediterranean in general, and of Cyprus in particular, to its interests.
For Ankara, the stakes are very high and the cost so far has been very acceptable. In particular, developments in recent years pose the following risks for Turkey: It may find itself outside geopolitical partnerships and other processes in the Eastern Mediterranean, observing – without any possibility of intervening in – the geopolitical and economic upgrade of Cyprus, and it may be sidelined in any energy planning (although the size of the oil and gas deposits and the region’s transformation into an energy hub are still highly uncertain issues today).
Considering it inconceivable that it might be crowded out in a highly important region, Turkey has proceeded with a significant economic investment, with the purchase of specialized research vessels and drilling equipment, acting outside international law by systematically questioning the right of Cyprus to delimit its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and exploit any hydrocarbon deposits there.
As the reactions of the United States – which is involved in a wider geopolitical game – and the European Union were rather lukewarm, Turkey is expected to continue its activities.
Given the significant breadth of Turkish claims and its extremely maximalist positions on issues directly related to Greece, it is necessary to formulate a comprehensive policy and to utilize the entire foreign policy toolkit: alliances, bilateral diplomatic contacts and the opening of parallel communication channels (Track-II diplomacy), exploring prospects for bilateral economic and other cooperation, as well as sending a clear message about Greece’s red lines, while maintaining a strong capacity of deterrence.
At the same time, however, there needs to be a sound understanding of the provisions of international law as well as international practice in the area of maritime delimitation, which should then be communicated to politicians and the public.
Thanos Dokos is director-general at the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).