The European Union has expressed its “grave concern” and pledged to “respond appropriately and in full solidarity” with Cyprus in response to Turkey’s plans to conduct drilling operations within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Turkey’s moves have raised concerns in Athens of a renewed period of tension over the summer, as they come during a protracted election period in Greece, with all the vulnerabilities that entails.
The Greek Foreign Ministry also denounced Turkey’s decision and called on Ankara to “immediately cease its illegal activities, to respect Cyprus’s inalienable sovereign rights and to desist from further actions that undermine stability in the region.”
Analysts note that the location where Turkey’s Fatih vessels plans to drill off Cyprus’ western coast was chosen deliberately, as it could challenge the position of Greece and Cyprus that they have contiguous continental shelves.
Moreover, Turkey’s intention to also begin seismic research south of the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kastellorizo is also seen as an escalation by Ankara in its bid to to solidify its claims in the East Mediterranean. This is further demonstrated by the constant presence of Turkish vessels south of Cyprus.
Furthermore, the spike in Turkish airspace violations over the Aegean, leading to daily mock dogfights with Greek fighter jets, is also seen as a indication of Ankara’s intentions.
Turkey’s claims in the Aegean and the Mediterranean are more or less encapsulated in the so-called notion of a “Blue Homeland” peddled by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which refers to a vast area of Turkish interests expanding across half of the East Mediterranean – including the continental shelves of Cyprus, Rhodes, Kastellorizo, Karpathos, Kassos and the eastern section of Crete.
Although the question remains open as to what lengths Turkey is willing to go in pursuit of these interests, cynics recall the crisis on the eastern Aegean islets of Imia in 1996 which brought the two countries on the brink of war.