Turkish Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Fatih Donmez announced that Turkey would not cease drilling in Greece’s and Cyprus’ exclusive economic zones (EEZ) on Monday.
Turkey’s activity in the Eastern Mediterranean has been an enduring sore spot for the three countries, and has drawn attention from the wider international community.
Turkey to continue drilling off coast of Greece, Cyprus
Despite Donmez’s announcement, analysts believe it is unlikely that Turkey will resume drilling in Greece and Cyprus’ territorial waters very soon. Rather, it is possible that Turkey is holding this trump card close in order to be able to retaliate if meetings and contact between the two countries and the wider European Union break down.
During his discussion of Turkey’s drilling activity, Donmez also mentioned the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
Kastellorizo has been a source of tension in the past, with Turkey having declared multiple times that the eastern island is too far from Greece and too close to Turkey to be considered Greek. Turkey has violated Greece’s exclusive economic zone surrounding Kastellorizo a number of times and, according to Donmez, it is not afraid to do this again.
The US Ambassador to Athens, Geoffrey Pyatt, has condemned Turkey’s actions in regards to Kastellorizo in the past.
“I have also made a point on many occasions and I will make it again today, that the United States adheres to the principal of international maritime law that islands, including Kastellorizo, have exactly the same continental shelf and EEZ rights as does any mainland territory,” said Pyatt in July 2020, speaking to the Athens Macedonia News Agency (AMNA).
Turkey continues to deny that Kastellorizo has the same rights to an EEZ as the rest of Greece.
“We have conducted about eight drilling activities in the Mediterranean over three years,” said Donmez. He also highlighted that three of these activities took place in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, which the Turkish government sees as rightfully theirs to exploit.
“What we have said from the beginning is that we have our own rights and interests in accordance with international maritime law in these areas, so there is no chance of us backing off,” Donmez added.
Turkey a “real concern” to the Mediterranean
This is not the first time there have been issues with Turkey’s ongoing provocations in the Mediterranean in 2021.
On March 11, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his concern for Turkey’s provocative actions against Greece, including its violations of the airspace of other countries, which was ongoing all during 2020.
Testifying before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken said that the United States has spoken up about actions that violate international law in the Eastern Mediterranean — which includes Turkey’s actions against Greece.
“We have looked with real concern over the last year and of course more recently, at some of the actions taken in the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly by Turkey, in terms of various claims,” Blinken said.
“It is very important that the US stands up and engages in advancing stability sovereignty and territorial integrity of all parties in Eastern Mediterranean and insists that any disputes that arise will be resolved peacefully, diplomatically, not militarily, not through provocative actions,” he added.
“We have called out actions, including by Turkey, that violate international law or commitments as NATO ally and that includes provocative actions against Greece like violations of airspace,” the Secretary of State declared.