OPINION: Europe’s desperation to rapidly secure alternative sources of natural gas as it reduces dependence on Russian supplies has weakened the continent’s geopolitical influence, exposing its soft underbelly to neighbours who see opportunities to push their own agendas.

Following Russia’s use of gas supplies as a geopolitical weapon, President Recep Erdogan of Turkey now deems the time is right to reassert his country’s rather quixotic claims to gas resources offshore Cyprus.

Erdogan believes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus should share in all gas found offshore Cyprus, including the approximate 15 trillion cubic feet of resource held in Chevron’s Aphrodite, ExxonMobil’s Glaucus and Eni’s Calypso discoveries.

A few years ago, to reinforce its claims, Turkey deployed its navy to stop foreign companies exploring in Cypriot waters and even drilled wildcats itself in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.

After a two-year lull, Erdogan is now preparing to drill another exploration well in the East Mediterranean, most likely offshore Cyprus.

Stoking tensions further, Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah movement is threatening to launch missiles at Israeli gas platforms.

It is no coincidence that the sabre-rattling by Turkey and Hezbollah came weeks after Cyprus and Egypt, Israel and Greece struck a deal with the European Union to export future volumes of gas to the EU.

This gas — much from Israel — could be sent to Europe via the proposed EastMed pipeline, which traverses both the Cypriot EEZ and waters between Cyprus and Crete claimed by Turkey under a rather bizarre maritime border agreement signed in 2019 with the United Nations-recognised government in Libya.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine and cut Europe’s gas supplies, the EU — and the US — threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey if it did not stop its naval posturing, a policy that appeared to work.

However, with huge volumes of much-needed Azerbaijani gas being sent to the EU via Turkey-traversing pipelines, Europe and the US need to invoke delicate diplomacy to avoid Nord Stream-like ‘technical issues’ in the East Mediterranean.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)

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