Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for dialogue and negotiations over access to energy resources in the East Mediterranean, just ahead of a European Union meeting in Brussels on Thursday that will decide whether to impose economic sanctions on the Ankara administration.
However, the omens for Turkey’s beleaguered economy are not good, with EU officials saying there has been no improvement in Ankara’s behaviour.
'We haven't seen much progress'
“In several aspects, the situation has worsened,” said the EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell early this week. “Unhappily, we haven’t seen much progress... we have not seen a fundamental change of direction.”
In recent years, Turkey has been shooting seismic and drilling exploration wells in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and has also struck a bilateral deal with the Libyan authorities that demarcates the two countries’ maritime boundary, while ignoring the EEZ claims of Greece and its islands.
At a summit in October, European leaders warned Turkey to withdraw its drilling and seismic vessels from Cypriot waters or face punitive sanctions.
While Turkey’s seismic vessel Oruc Reis returned to port, another survey vessel, Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, is active in Cypriot waters.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias last week said Ankara’s efforts to de-escalate the crisis were “unconvincing.”
Potential new sanctions
Certain Turkish officials — including Mehmet Akalin and Ali Namoglu, two executives of state-owned Turkish Petroleum — are already subject to EU asset freeze orders which run until November 2021, but the 10 December meeting in Brussels could widen the scope of sanctions.
Ankara’s maritime boundary claims have escalated tensions between NATO allies Turkey and Greece, as well as Cyprus, and resulted in increased military exercises in the region.
Accusing the EU of “strategic blindness” when it comes to Turkey and describing Greece and Cyprus as 'spoiled" members, Erdogan said: “We believe we can resolve the problems in the Eastern Mediterranean, not by excluding one another, but by gathering all the regional actors around the same table.”
However, he stressed that Turkey will safeguard its interests and those of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which only Ankara recognises as an independent state.
Fighting 'pirate mentality'
Discussing the region’s oil and gas resources, he remarked: “No matter what their economic strength and no matter where they are located, no country in our region can afford to ignore this potential,” stressing that Turkey “cannot be a mere onlooker to the developments taking place.”
“We do not seek to usurp anyone’s rights. We just take a firm stance against the pirate mentality seeking to steal away our rights.”
Erdogan said Ankara’s proposal for a conference bringing together all littoral states in the Eastern Mediterranean and TRNC is still on the table and “we hope our counterparts will respond to the hand we extend.”
Unlike Greece and Cyprus, Turkey is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that governs maritime zones, while UNCLOS disputes are handled at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.