Turkey has decided to bring a gas platform into Cyprus’exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to start drilling for hydrocarbons in the area as soon as possible.
Diplomatic sources told The Cyprus Weekly that the Turkish government recently ordered the construction of its own gas platform from a company in Malaysia. According to the same sources, Ankara is planning “to place the platform just opposite Limassol”.
“This way,” the source said,“Turkey can directly challenge the Republic of Cyprus’ sovereign rights to exploit resources in its own EEZ”.
Turkish ‘Sabah’newspaper reported on Wednesday that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had recently given instructions to start the process of buying or building a gas platform.
The issue was also discussed in a meeting of Turkish National Security Council. The Cyprus Weekly understands that Turkey has already ordered the drilling platform, with an expected cost close to $1.5 billion.
Political analysts speculate that Turkey’s latest move is not to drill for hydrocarbons but for Ankara to assert its presence in Cyprus’ EEZ. An adviser to President Nicos Anastasiades told The Cyprus Weekly that such a move could seriously jeopardise the peace process in Cyprus.
As things stand, nobody knows when and how the peace process could start again.
Anastasiades and his advisers are hoping that after the UN resolution to renew UNFICYP’s mandate, there will be a face-saving gesture by the UN envoy Epsen Barth Eide that could allow both sides to return to the table.
This is easier said than done. Turkey is not willing to withdraw the January 6 navigational notice (NAVTEX), which is valid until April 6. The government in Ankara argues it has been conciliatory in not returning the seismic ship Barbaros to Cyprus’ EEZ.
Diplomatic sources speaking to The Cyprus Weekly argue that Barbaros has not undertaken any real seismic research in the last months. According to the same source, the real plan was for Turkey to show Ankara’s intention to be part of the hydrocarbon game in the Eastern Mediterranean.
No return to talks soon
Meanwhile, Anastasiades finds himself alone trying to find ways to return to the table. According to sources close to the Presidency, he doesn’t expect any move from Ankara soon.
Issuing a NAVTEX is not an illegal act by Turkey, per se; it is a violation of Cypriot rights only because it involves searching for hydrocarbons in an area under RoC and EU sovereignty.
One scenario that Presidential aides are considering is for Anastasiades to publicly reaffirm his willingness to return to the table, provided that Turkey does not activate the current NAVTEX and does not issue another.
Anastasiades may also stress that he will withdraw from the talks entirely if there is a new NAVTEX or if Barbaros returns to Cyprus’ EEZ.
For its part, Turkey could discreetly reassure Cyprus that it would keep the NAVTEX intact but not activate it as long as peace talks are under way. No firm decision has been taken on the matter.
Anastasiades’advisers believe Turkey and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu do not want to engage in negotiations right now. The belief is that they would resume dialogues with the Greek Cypriot side on a procedural basis without real or substantial decisions because of upcoming elections.