Turkey tests Cyprus after research vessel encroaches on offshore gas area

Cyprus officials were mulling a response late Monday after a Turkish survey boat encroached on an area off the island’s southern coast, further escalating tension in the ever-volatile region.

The Turkish research vessel Barbaros, escorted by one warship and two support vessels, entered Block 3 inside Nicosia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) Monday morning. According to a so-called Navigational Telex (NAVTEX) note issued by Ankara in early October – and which at the time caused Nicosia to suspend UN-brokered peace negotiations – the bright red vessel plans to carry out seismic surveys for natural gas exploration until December 30.

“This is a clear violation of Cypriot sovereign rights,” said government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides, adding that “political, diplomatic and legal” countermeasures would be announced on Tuesday following a meeting between President Nicos Anastasiades and other political leaders.

Sources told Kathimerini that Nicosia will most likely request a freeze of Turkey’s EU membership talks. A proposal to resort to the UN Security Council was ruled out due to concerns that the New York-based organization might call for the suspension of all activity inside Cyprus’s EEZ. The Greek Cypriots have already licensed blocs 2, 3 and 9 to the Italian-Korean energy consortium ENI-Kogas.

Still, analysts questioned the possibility of an EU talks freeze as it would require a unanimous decision by the European Council.

Turkey’s latest move also drew a hard-worded response from the Greek foreign minister. In Athens, Evangelos Venizelos urged Ankara “to reverse course, not just with the vessel, but also in its foreign policy, and to maneuver within the framework of international legality.”

Adding to concern, the Russian navy will be carrying out a drill off Cyprus’s eastern coast until Thursday in an 800-square mile zone next to the area Turkey plans to survey. Also on Tuesday, Israel and Cyprus will mount a joint military exercise.

Diplomatic sources attribute Turkey’s assertiveness to the ongoing rapprochement between Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, which, among other consequences, helps to reinforce these countries’ sovereign rights in the region.

On Monday, it was announced that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will visit to Cyprus on November 7. The meeting will take place as part of preparations for a trilateral summit between the leaders of the three countries. Meanwhile, their foreign ministers are set to meet in Nicosia on October 29.

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