It is well known that Turkey regards the concept of the EEZ as its most important enemy in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Ankara sees a great opportunity in the Cyprus EEZ and is ready to make the game more difficult. Thus, with threats and extortions, it is laying claim to Block 3 of the Cypriot EEZ and has immobilized the Saipem 12000 drillship contracted by the Italian-French Eni/Total consortium, preventing it from reaching its destination.
As it disregards the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Ankara has no diplomatic relations with the internationally recognized southern part of the island. Turkey asserts that it has a maritime border with Egypt, and the only way to claim it is to insist that Greece has no maritime border with Cyprus. But Block 4 of the Cypriot EEZ clearly shows that Cyprus does have a maritime border with Greece and therefore Turkey does not have a maritime border with Egypt.
It is worth recalling that the late Cyprus president Tassos Papadopoulos raised his stature by stating in essence “we are talking about EEZ and nothing else” without then Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan realizing the importance of Cyprus’s brilliant move in 2004, so it is now too late for him. It is also of great significance that all the countries in the world, apart from Turkey, and including the USA, Russia and China, have recognized the EEZ of the Republic of Cyprus. To date, 138 countries have declared EEZs or have created exclusive fishing zones (EFZs) extending 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from shore. Only two countries in the world violate the EEZs of other states: China and Turkey.
Cyprus faces a very big problem, because when a state disputes its EEZ, it must also anticipate the resulting side effects, and be ready to defend it by all legal means. The Cypriot government, on the other hand, recently announced that it is preparing to unilaterally delimitate its EEZ with its northern neighbors, which are none other than Turkey and Greece. Indeed, Cyprus has said it would submit the geographical coordinates to United Nations Headquarters in New York but never did. Such plans require backing from allies.
Greece, distracted by the highly charged “Macedonia” and Novartis issues, is unable to be of effective assistance to the Republic of Cyprus.
The Greek government must request that the United States halt Erdogan’s “war dance” in the Mediterranean. “Solve your problems” was the message issued by the US State Department after Turkey’s unacceptable aggressive move against a Greek ship in the Aegean Sea. However, it did not make any statements regarding the violation by Turkey in the Cypriot EEZ.
At the moment, the other two alternatives that Cyprus has for support are Israel and the European Union. It is well known that Israel has been protecting Cyprus’s air space for a long time and could be asked to carry out naval patrols in its exclusive economic zone, even though it has not yet developed a serious naval force in the region to support its own EEZ.
For its part, the EU not only signed the 1982 UNCLOS but also ratified it on January 1, 1998, which strengthened its competence in all areas where Part V of the convention provides rights and obligations to coastal states. So, today, the Cypriot EEZ is also an EU EEZ. It is therefore an obligation for the EU to defend its EEZ today, because a challenge to the EEZ of the island is also a challenge to that of the European Union.
On February 12 European Council President Donald Tusk warned Turkey to “avoid threats or actions against any EU member and to commit to good-neighborly relations, peaceful settlement of disputes and respect of territorial sovereignty.”
But now Cyprus is entitled to call the UN Security Council to intervene over the flagrant violation of the Law of the Sea Convention and international security and peace. In my opinion, such a preventive move is imperative at the current juncture, since Erdogan has decided that he wants a simultaneous crisis not only in the Cyprus EEZ but also with Greece in the Aegean.
Dr Theodore Kariotis is professor emeritus of economics at the University System of Maryland.