Ankara’s announcement on Friday that it is dispatching a vessel to conduct drilling operations off northeastern Cyprus coupled with a spike in Turkish violations of Greek airspace is being seen as a response to, if not an outright snub of sanctions announced a few days ago by the European Union Foreign Affairs Council over its activities within the Eastern Mediterranean island’s territorial waters.
The decision to send the Fatih drillship to Cyprus was announced on Friday by Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay and it coincided with the 36th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish-Cypriot breakaway state in the occupied north of the island.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Yavuz drillship remains in Block 7 of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and, according to a fresh navigational telex issued by Ankara, the Oruc Reis research vessel is heading to an area off the island’s west coast.
The Cypriot presidency responded, calling Turkey’s actions “a display of extreme and provocative contempt towards international and European law.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared defiant, saying Turkey would not allow Turkish Cypriots to be blackmailed over hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Erdogan said that Turkey would stand by Turkish Cypriots, adding that “no one, especially the European Union, has the right to turn Turkish Cypriots into prisoners of a Greek-Cypriot agenda.”
Over the last two days, Turkish fighter jets participating in a multinational military exercise in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean have engaged in a barrage of airspace violations over the Greek islands of Kastellorizo and Ro.
A Pakistani P-3 naval aircraft that was taking part in the exercise also violated Greek national airspace on two consecutive days, prompting Athens to lodge a demarche to Islamabad.
Greece sees the Pakistani violations within the framework of Turkey’s attempt to prove that it has military alliances and is not an isolated force in the region.
Ankara’s violations are also thought to be a reaction to the recent Greek-Egyptian exercise involving Cyprus north of Crete, and, notably, the Blue Flag aerial exercise hosted by the Israeli Air Force in southern Israel that ended on Friday.