Amid worsening relations between Turkey and Greece, a Turkish research vessel has begun surveying for energy resources in contested areas of the eastern Mediterranean. This could force the hands of EU and the US, both of whom Greece had earlier blamed for inaction and pandering to Ankara's interests.
Relations between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey have traditionally been taut, and the neighbors have long been at loggerheads over a slew of territorial disputes. Greece and Turkey have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s, including once over drilling exploration rights in the Aegean Sea that separates the two countries. Recent discoveries of natural gas and drilling plans across the eastern Mediterranean have led to renewed tension.
Cyprus, a third of which is effectively under Turkish occupation, has over the years pivoted to Greece and the West in diplomatic relations. Turkey, which doesn't recognise ethnically divided Cyprus as a state, claims 44 per cent of the island's economic zone as its own and insists it has every right to carry out such explorations in defense of its interests and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots.
The latest actions by Ankara are believed to have been provoked by a deal Greece signed with Egypt on Thursday delineating their bilateral maritime boundaries and exclusive economic zones for rights to the exploitation of resources. Turkish officials said the deal came as Turkey and Greece were making progress in informal talks brokered by Berlin.
EU's hand could be forced
On Friday, EU foreign ministers expressed full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus and urged an immediate de-escalation by Turkey as Greek and Turkish navy ships shadowed each other.
Greece's NATO ally France is the EU's biggest military power. Under President Macron, France's relations with Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been on the decline, the biggest issue being the war in Libya where France and Turkey find themselves on the opposite sides. Macron has announced his decision to temporarily reinforce the French military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean in the coming days, in cooperation with European partners including Greece.
The US stated it supported Cyprus' right to exploit hydrocarbon deposits discovered in its waters. US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale said hydrocarbon development would aim to provide durable energy security and economic prosperity throughout the Mediterranean, according to the US Embassy in Cyprus.
The statement was issued after Hale met with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides to discuss the eastern Mediterranean's growing strategic significance as well as recent developments in the region.