Turkey has moved to ease tensions with the European Union by recalling a drillship engaged in exploration in disputed waters off the divided island of Cyprus.

However, hopes for an improvement in bilateral relations were quickly dashed on Tuesday after the EU’s executive said the Turkish government was undermining the bloc's economy, eroding democracy and destroying independent courts in a blow to its EU membership bid.

The criticism drew an angry response from Turkey.

The Turkish state-owned drillship Yavuz, which had been scheduled to be operating southwest of Cyprus until 12 October, returned to the southern province of Mersin last weekend.

The Turkish Energy Ministry said the vessel was undergoing routine maintenance and would return to a new location which it did not identify.

A spokesman for the EU executive, the European Commission, said: “The departure constitutes another welcome step towards de-escalation. We hope for similar and further moves in this direction. It’s an important signal."

Tensions between the EU and Ankara had eased in recent weeks as Turkey and EU member Greece agreed to talks aimed at resolving several disputes, including a standoff over maritime claims in the East Mediterranean.

EU leaders last week assured Cyprus that they would impose sanctions on Turkey if it continued with its drilling campaign in disputed waters.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday that the outcome of last week’s EU summit was not sufficient to overcome the problems in Turkey-EU ties.

Erdogan “stated that the EU had succumbed to pressure and blackmail from Greek Cypriots and Greece despite Turkey’s good faith”, the Turkish presidency said.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was disappointed by the EU decisions, which he described as “far from objective".

Meanwhile, Turkey is switching its exploration efforts to the Black Sea amid plans to send a third drillship to the area.

The drillship Kanuni will begin exploration in the Black Sea in early 2021, alongside the drillship Fatih, which Turkey said found 320 billion cubic metres of natural gas reserves with the Tuna-1 well in August.