Tensions grow over Cyprus gas drilling

Tensions grow over Cyprus gas drilling

Amid concerns of tension following last week’s collapse of Cyprus peace talks, Turkish warships were expected off the island’s coast on Wednesday morning ahead of the scheduled drilling operations by the French-Italian energy consortium of Total and Eni.

Turkish ships were expected to start military exercises with live ammunition at 5 a.m. in blocks 5, 6 and 7 in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) after having reserved the areas with a navigational telex (navtex). The consortium’s ship West Capella arrived last night to commence drilling for natural gas in the coming days in block 11.

Speaking to Parliament Tuesday about last week’s collapse in talks to reunify the island, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that Greece’s message to Turkey must remain consistent especially “during these difficult times” and that Athens remains squarely behind the self-evident international rights of Cyprus to proceed with efforts to exploit its natural resources. French government sources told Kathimerini that Paris backs Total’s actions, saying that they are taking place in an area whose sovereignty is not disputed by Turkey.

Tsipras’s remarks came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned energy companies not to proceed with drilling, as they will risk “losing a friend.” Ankara has objected to Cyprus’s exploitation of its natural resources saying they should be shared with the Turkish-occupied north, recognized only by Turkey. Ankara has repeatedly warned that it will not accept any “unilateral action” by the Greek Cypriots. But Tsipras said Tuesday that it was a given that Greece, the European Union and the international community will back Cyprus in its right to drill for natural gas within its EEZ.

Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias echoed similar sentiments, saying that Turkish provocations in Cyprus are a “possibility” but stressed that Turkey is not “invincible.”

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