Turkey in the East Med: fraught with risk

Posted by Antonis D. Papagiannidis 13/05/2019 6 Comment(s) Economia Blog,

The way in which Turkey is implementing on-the-field its newly assertive/aggressive policy concerning the East-Med oil-natural gas Great Game is deeply disturbing. It gets more so every day that passes, one would say.


If the 19th century essentially geostrategic Great Game pitting England again the then Russian Empire and the more recent version over Central Asia and Caucasus hydrocarbons that had more geo-economic a dimension (oil and gas, Caspian Sea reserves) left their mark in international politics, the present play clearly involves Turkey along-side the US, Russia but also the EU.


The Cheney Natural Energy Report 2001 recommendation, that “the President make energy security a priority of [U.S.] trade and foreign policy” has not receded, notwithstanding the change in energy dependence following the recent shale-oil and natural gas technologies. “Europe” cannot be considered as a coherent entity, since Germany – an essential part of EU structures – seems content in deepening its own (and Central Europe) dependence from Russian/Gasprom gas through pipeline. Russia itself looks at East Med hydrocarbon finds with negative feelings: acquiring competitors for its own natural resources West-wards is one thing when new players would be Americans offering LNG at Europe’s FSRUs, quite another if significant quantities were made available from EastMed fields. As Ambassador Richard Morningstar, special State Department envoy for Eurasian Energy, would say “at the end of the day, prices will diatate the energy play”.


So, when Turkey sent seismic survey ship Barbaros with support vessels Tanux-1 and Apollo Moon, but also drillship Fatih (a second drillship – Yavur – has been announced) to proceed with search for natural gas within the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone. There were negative reactions all around: the US, the EU Hight Representative for External Relations, France, Egypt, Israel took negative positions – some outright, some more balanced. Even Russia, Ankara’s present support pillar, was negatively inclined. But… there is a “but”.


When the EU Summit convened at Sibiu, Romania and was called upon to discuss this issue it did just that: it engaged in discussion but reached no effective position as to measures to be taken against Ankara. Even better (or worse): the issue was rolled over to the next European Council session – safely scheduled for just after the European election.


So, while Turkey gets on a rampage over the East Mediterranean energy play, the international system is watching – cautiously. And the real players – the oil companies: Exxon Mobil, Total (who got new concessions from Cyprus), ENI (who blinked last time Turkish naval forces impeded its drilling) – are weighing their cost-benefit from this situation fraught with risk.


The finishing touch to this aggressive posturing was put by Omer Celik – spokesman of Turkish AKP party – who called on Cyprus President Anastassiadis “to keep fresh in his mind” the 1974 events in Cyprus: a clear reference to the Turkish invasion at that time, that let to the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus which is still in force.


Athens watches closely the situation as it evolves. Were Yanuz activities to be directed towards the Greek Kastellorizo island cluster, the expression “fraught with risk” will take on new meaning.


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