Cyprus Stand-Off

Turkey and Greece clash again

Over four decades since the division of Cyprus between Turks and Greeks, tensions are again rising over offshore oil and gas resources.

Rhythmic Gymnastics – Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games – Team Final and Individual Qualification – Coomera Indoor Sports Centre – Gold Coast, Australia – April 11, 2018. Diamanto Evripidou of Cyprus competes using the ball. REUTERS/Jeremy Lee

The Mediterranean island of Cyprus is at the center of a renewed international dispute of late, with oil and gas claims at issue.

The UN is holding talks in Nicosia between both sides at present, aiming, as ever, to reach an agreement on the possible reunification of the island.

But tensions between Greece and Turkey have been on the rise in recent weeks.

Just this Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras described the relationship between the two countries as experiencing a “period of instability.”

Maritime border disputes, and Cyprus in particular, are at the core of the conflict.

In February, the Turkish navy prevented a drilling ship belonging to Italian oil and gas exploration and production company ENI from entering Greek Cypriot exclusive economic waters, where the company already operates a number of exploratory blocks.

Now Turkish officials are coming under increasing pressure from international partners, most notably the EU, for the continued blocking of Cyprus’ oil and gas ambitions.

Turkey continues to justify the move by citing the ill-defined boundaries of the Greek Cypriot Exclusive economic zone, which, it claims, overlaps with Turkish and Turkish Cypriot territorial waters.

Last August, Turkish officials had already stated they would block any attempts to explore for hydrocarbons in areas over which it believes drilling rights are shared. Greek Cypriot officials have pledged to continue with exploration despite Ankara’s warnings.

None of this is particularly new, but the tone of European criticism over Turkey’s move was unprecedented in its harshness, with Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission Presidency, stating in late March that it was “indispensable” for Ankara to deescalate the tensions and improve its relationship with Athens and Nicosia.

This week, the European commission released a report on Turkey where it strongly condemned the continued state of emergency imposed by the government since the attempted coup of July 2016.

The renewed tensions have further damaged an already difficult relationship between Turkey and the EU, particularly within the context of Turkey’s bid for membership of the union.

The current situation is further exacerbated by Cyprus’ improving relationship with Egypt, with which talks have been opened regarding the construction of a pipeline to Europe.

Another ongoing project which has upset Ankara is the proposed Greece-Cyprus-Israel gas pipeline.

The fact that the voices of Cypriot leaders seem to go unheard in this debate is also not new. Despite the country being technically sovereign, independent, and a member of the EU, the Republic of Cyprus has always counted on strong support and protection from Greece, just in the same way that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a nation state recognized only by Turkey, could always count on Ankara’s muscle. Dozens of attempts at reunification have repeatedly failed over the years.