Thursday

28th Jan 2021

EU prepares 'targeted' sanctions on Turkey over gas drilling

  • Cyprus split in two in 1974 when the Turkish-backed TRNC broke away in response to a Greek coup on the island (Photo: michael kirian)

The EU is preparing to punish Turkey for gas drilling off Cyprus as Ankara sends a second ship into a disputed zone.

"We are in full solidarity with Cyprus. What Turkey is doing in the territorial waters of Cyprus is totally unacceptable," European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said after an EU summit on Thursday (20 June).

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"The commission has been charged to propose measures to be taken as soon as possible on this conflict and it will do so and these will not be soft measures," he added.

EU leaders earlier the same day agreed a joint statement "strongly condemning Turkey's continued illegal actions".

Europe "deplores that Turkey has not yet responded to the EU's repeated calls to cease such activities", they added.

They also spoke of taking "targeted measures" that could cover the whole "range of EU-Turkey relations" if Ankara did not back down.

Options include visa bans and asset freezes on Turkish individuals and companies doing the drilling.

They also include freezing talks on an upgraded customs union or formally freezing talks on Turkey's EU accession, which were suspended in practice in 2016 due to an authoritarian crackdown.

The leaders spoke after Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades briefed EU Council president Donald Tusk on the situation and after Cyprus issued arrest warrants for the sailors on the Turkish ships.

Tusk said "The European Council stands ready to respond appropriately, and in full solidarity with Cyprus".

But the EU has to tread carefully despite its strident words because Turkey is helping Europe by stopping millions of Syrian refugees from going to Greece.

It also has to consider the geopolitical implications of its actions, as Turkey, a Nato ally, moves closer to Russia.

Turkey, the same day, sent a second ship, called the Yavuz into the disputed area to join the Fatih, which began drilling in recent days.

The waters belong to Cyprus' "exclusive economic zone" according to the EU and UN.

But they are de facto shared with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a breakaway entity that is recognised by Turkey only and which hosts thousands of Turkish troops.

Fatih Donmez, the Turkish energy minister, voiced defiance on Thursday.

"We will continue the drilling activities that derive from our own legitimate rights uninterrupted," he said

He accused Cyprus of "hiding behind the EU" and said Nicosia "cannot have any say on any issue that concerns the entire island".

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, also defended his decision to buy anti-aircraft systems from Russia instead of the US despite the threat of US sanctions if he did so.

"Imposition of sanctions remains a course of action and a very viable one at this point," Clarke Cooper, a US assistant secretary fo state, said on Thursday.

"I do not see any possibility of these sanctions happening," Erdogan said.

If the US went ahead, he would "immediately work the phones" with US president Donald Trump to stop them and might impose "sanctions of our own", he added.

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