A sense of alert is building up in the Eastern Mediterranean around Turkey’s aggressively assertive behavior in the energy game played out in the region – a game that clearly involves far more than regional politics, thus forcing global players to take a stance. Turkish-owned but internationally-operated drillships Fatih and Yavuz (“internationally” refers to mainly Norwegian, American and to a lesser extent British technical staff: underwater drilling is no easy matter) have taken the place of research vessels the like of Barbaros that were plying the Eastern Med ever since mid-2017. The Cyprus EEZ was “invaded” in early June, west of the island; now it seems that Turkish search for natural gas will take place eastwards.
Within less than 10 days, the U.S. were on record saying that such drilling with the Cyprus EEZ was endangering stability in the region; the EuroMed-7 (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Malta, Greece, Cyprus) called for the EU to adopt a firm position over Turkish moves; the General Affairs Council – and, more importantly and slightly more vigorously, the European Council – called for measures to be prepared. To read the European Council Conclusion (point 17), the Council “recalls and reaffirms previous […] strongly condemning Turkey's continued illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. [It] expresses serious concerns over Turkey's current illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and deplores that Turkey has not yet responded to the EU's repeated calls to cease such activities. […] The European Council calls on Turkey to show restraint, respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus and refrain from any such actions. [It] endorses the invitation to the Commission and the EEAS [EEAS/European External Action Service] to submit options for appropriate measures without delay, including targeted measures. The EU will continue to closely monitor developments and stands ready to respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus. The European Council will remain seized of the matter and will revert accordingly”.
Such language is strong – by EU standards, that is! The expectations in Nicosia and Athens that something more tangible and more immediate would be agreed upon remained unfulfilled. No sanctions of the Ukrainian-crisis type (over Russia, to which Turkey is closely associated nowadays, by the way…) were decided; not even mentioned. “Measures” may include “sanctions”, at some later stage. Sanctions they are not!
Meanwhile, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be meeting with US President Donald Trump at the G-20 meeting in Japan. This may well prove far more conclusive , for the overall power game in the EastMed. The S-400/F-35 confrontation will play a role; the Iranian crisis a further one (Ankara completes the support triangle to Iran, along with Moscow).
One less-central point not to be missed: Greece is – just right now! – signing over drilling concessions to ExxonMobil. The sites concerned are West and South West of Crete, carefully facing away from where Turkish claims over Greek EEZ are being expressed. A move to watch.