Turkey accelerates plans to drill in disputed Mediterranean waters

By Selcan Hacaoglu on 6/3/2020

ANKARA (Bloomberg) - Turkey vowed to defend its interests in the eastern Mediterranean, where it’s preparing to issue new energy exploration licenses over the objections of Greece and the European Union.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan chaired a National Security Council meeting late Tuesday at which civilian and military leaders discussed “activities of some countries against Turkey’s interests in the Mediterranean,” according to a statement.

“Turkey will continue to defend its rights and interests in the land, air and sea without any concession,” the council said.

The eastern Mediterranean has become an energy hot spot with big finds for EU member Cyprus, Israel and Egypt in recent years, and Turkey’s push to secure a share of the resources in those waters has exacerbated strains in an already tumultuous region.

“Greece, Egypt and some other countries have tried to exclude us” from energy sharing in the Mediterranean, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told TV24 television in an interview on Wednesday. “Any deal that excludes Turkey can’t survive and is not valid, we won’t allow any fait accompli.”

Having sent troops to northern Cyprus after a 1974 coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece, Ankara vehemently opposes Cypriot drilling without an agreement on sharing any proceeds. It also struck an accord with Libya on their maritime boundary that led Erdogan to declare rights to parts of the seabed that Athens say is Greek under international law.

In return, Turkey has given military support to Libya’s internationally recognized government, turning the tide in its war against militia commander Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russian mercenaries. The National Security Council statement expressed continued “military support” for the government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

“Haftar can’t win this war,” Cavusoglu said.

While European nations, Egypt and Israel have built a forum to promote their interests, Turkey deployed its own exploration ships under the protection of its navy and air force.

Turkey’s state-run oil company, TPAO, officially sought new exploration licenses in the Mediterranean last week. It’s preparing to expand its exploration activities closer toward the Greek island of Crete while drilling for oil and gas off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus at the same time.

“The fact that NATO allies are staring each other down on the European Union’s doorstep should cause all Europeans to pay greater attention to the region,” the European Council on Foreign Relations wrote in a recent report.

“Given the potential for instability in the eastern Mediterranean to affect core EU interests – migration, counter-terrorism, energy security, sovereignty, and more – European states not directly involved in the overlapping conflicts should help improve the relationship with Turkey.”

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