Turkey Confronts EU With New Energy Drilling Off Cyprus Coast

Turkey started drilling in new areas off the southwestern coast of Cyprus on Tuesday, in a move that could further escalate tensions with the European Union, Greece and France, which temporarily increased military presence in the region.

Ankara resumed its search for energy in the contested eastern Mediterranean waters last week after German-mediated negotiations with Greece collapsed when Athens announced a maritime delimitation agreement with Egypt on Aug. 6 in retaliation to a similar deal between Turkey and Libya.

The eastern Mediterranean has become an energy hot spot with big finds for EU member Cyprus, as well as Israel and Egypt in recent years and Turkey is pushing to secure a share of the resources, defying warnings from the bloc that its unilateral actions in territorial disputes with Greece and Cyprus could further strain ties.

After dispatching the Oruc Reis to the south of Greek island of Kastellorizo last week, Turkey began operating a second drilling ship — the 230-meter (755-foot) long Yavuz — on Tuesday. It’s accompanied by three offshore supply ships under the protection of the Turkish navy. “All vessels are strongly advised not to enter this area,” a Turkish navy website said Saturday as it designated exploration areas off limits through Sept. 15.

Turkey — which sent troops and captured the northern third of Cyprus in the wake of a 1974 coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece — doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a sovereign country and opposes Cypriot drilling without an agreement on sharing any proceeds with the Turkish Cypriots. The internationally recognized government of the Republic of Cyprus has licensed several offshore exploration blocks, some of them located in disputed waters. Cyprus has an agreement with Exxon Mobil, Total SA and Eni SpA for oil and natural gas exploration rights near an area where Turkey wants to drill.

Ankara also doesn’t recognize Greece’s claim that its territorial waters start immediately south of the island of Kastellorizo, the most distant Greek outpost in the contested area. It argues that a country’s continental shelf should be measured from its mainland.

The spat in the Mediterranean is one of several as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeks to reassert Turkey as a regional power. From conflicts in Syria and Libya to strikes in Iraq, NATO’s second-largest army has intervened with armed drones, warplanes and tanks. Erdogan has vowed to defend Turkey’s rights but also urged Mediterranean countries to come together and solve disputes in a phone call with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday.

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