Turkey announces military exercise off Cyprus coast despite EU threats
Thomas Wintle
The Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz is seen being escorted by a Turkish Navy frigate in the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus. /Murad Sezer/Reuters

The Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz is seen being escorted by a Turkish Navy frigate in the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus. /Murad Sezer/Reuters

Turkey says it will conduct live fire naval exercises off the coast on Cyprus from Saturday to Monday despite the looming threat of EU sanctions over hydrocarbon drilling in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Cyprus has condemned the drills off the divided island's coast as "illegal," saying it "violates the Republic of Cyprus' sovereignty and sovereign rights."

Turkey is at loggerheads with Greece and Cyprus, and by extension the EU, over recently discovered oil and gas reserves and territorial rights in the eastern Mediterranean, sparking fears of more severe conflict. 

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In a message on NAVTEX, the international maritime navigational telex system, Turkey announced on Friday there would be a gunnery drill in waters near Sadrazamkoy in northern Cyprus. 

The military exercises come after southern European leaders, backed by France, said they were prepared to support EU sanctions against Turkey if Ankara did not return to the table for negotiations. 

Ahead of an EU summit from 24 to 25 September, where the issue will be raised, tensions have hit fever pitch between NATO member Turkey and southern European states over hydrocarbon extraction in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Earlier in the week, French president Emmanuel Macron urged Europe to form a united front in addressing what he described as Turkey's "unacceptable" conduct in the contested waters, saying that Turkey's people "deserved something" different from the way the government under president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was currently behaving. Turkey's foreign office responded by describing Macron's address as "arrogant" and a sign "of his own weakness and despair."

This weekend's drills are the latest flare-up in an ongoing saga that escalated after Turkey sent its Oruc Reis seismic research vessel and a small navy flotilla to waters claimed by Greece on 10 August. 

Analysts saw the decision as a direct response to Athens' move to sign a deal with Egypt agreeing their respective exclusive rights for hydrocarbon exploration in areas of the Mediterranean claimed by Turkey. 

Greece has responded to the Oruc's presence by shadowing the Turkish ships and staging naval exercises alongside several EU allies and the United Arab Emirates in its own show of force.

The Oruc is supposed to remain in the disputed waters until Saturday, but the Turkish Yavuz drillship will remain in the contested waters until 15 September, and will soon be joined by the Kanuni exploration vessel. 


Source(s): AFP