November 19, 2019 Special Dispatch No. 8372

Following Announcement Of EU Sanctions Over Turkish Drilling In Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey Doubles Down

November 19, 2019
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8372

On November 11, 2019, the foreign ministers of the EU adopted a framework for sanctions on Turkey over its drilling off the coast of Cyprus.[1] On November 15, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay announced that on November 14, the Turkish drillship Fatih had begun drilling south of Cyprus's Cape Apostolos Andreas.[2] Vice President Oktay said: "We will not give the smallest concession regarding our valid interests on the issue of hydrocarbon resources." The Greek daily Ekathimerini, in an article titled "Turkey Responds To Sanctions With Drilling," also noted that Turkish violations of Greek airspace had spiked following the announcement of the sanctions, and that a Pakistani P-3 naval aircraft taking part in a multinational military exercise in the Aegean Sea had violated Greek airspace as well.[3]

Turkey's action also took place the day after the November 13 meeting in Washington, D.C., between U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In the press conference following the meeting, President Trump said of President Edoğan: "I'm a big fan of the President, I have to tell you that." President Trump said of Turkey's role in the raid that ended in the killing of Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi: "They were very, very helpful, and we appreciate that very much." He also said that: "We've also recently agreed to work toward a $100 billion two-way trade agreement... That would be four times what it is right now." Finally, Trump said to Erdoğan: "You're doing a fantastic job for the people of Turkey."[4]

While the strongest reactions to the drilling have come from the EU, of which Cyprus is a member, in the form of the sanctions, the U.S. and Russia have reacted as well. U.S. State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus has said of the drilling: "This step is highly provocative and risks raising tensions in the region. We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint." The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement in July, saying: "In connection with incoming reports on the visit of yet another Turkish ship to conduct geological prospecting in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus, we are watching with concern the developments in this area. We believe that any violation of Cyprus’s sovereignty can only hinder conditions for a durable, viable and fair resolution of the Cyprus issue."[5]

A Turkish think tank published a map designating in red the regions belonging to the Turkish Republic Of Northern Cyprus, a state recognized only by the government of Turkey.[6]

Having first sent the seismic survey ship Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa into the Eastern Mediterranean in April 2017,[7] Turkey has increased its activities in the area since the beginning of 2019 and first sent the drillship Fatih to the area west of Cyprus in May. At that time, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said: "It is impossible for us to accept a solution that counts the Turkish people of Cyprus as nothing, that fundamentally counts political equality as nothing, that counts the will of the Turkish people of Cyprus as nothing."[8] In June, the Turkish government sent a second drillship, Yavuz, to the Eastern Mediterranean.[9] On July 15, the EU announced that it would impose sanctions in response to the drilling[10] and in response, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said: "If you make such a decision regarding Turkey, we will increase our activities. We have three ships in the Eastern Mediterranean, and we will send a fourth." He also said that the EU's decision "need not be taken very seriously."[11] In August, the Turkish government sent the seismic survey ship Oruç Reis to the Eastern Mediterranean.[12]

In 2017, Turkey imported 99.3% of its natural gas, of which 52% came from Russia, 17% came from Iran, 12% came from Azerbaijan, and 8% came from Algeria.[13] Drilling for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean's Leviathan Gas Field, discovered in 2010,[14] would give Turkey more energy independence than it currently has. The East Mediterranean Gas Forum, comprising Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Palestine, and Egypt, was formed this year to cut back on infrastructure costs and form a regional gas market in order to be able to give competitive prices.[15] Some view Turkey's exclusion from this forum as a step pushing Ankara out of regional alliances or as a response to Turkish policies in the region.[16]


[1], November 11, 2019.

[2], November 15, 2019.

[3], November 16, 2019.

[4], November 13, 2019.

[5], July 10, 2019.

[6], February 13, 2019.

[7], April 23, 2017.

[8], May 4, 2019.

[9], June 20, 2019.

[10], July 16, 2019.

[11], July 16, 2019.

[12], August 27, 2019.

[13], accessed November 19, 2019.

[14], December 30, 2010.

[15], August 5, 2019.


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