Erdogan warns Greece, Cyprus over “reckless” oil, gas exploration

Ankara: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday warned that “reckless” oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean was a danger for Cyprus and Greece, a day after two European energy giants bid for new licences.

Erdogan in recent weeks has stepped up his rhetoric against energy exploration off Cyprus, which has been divided between the internationally-recognised Greek southern portion and the breakaway Turkish north for over four decades.

Ankara objects that such exploration deprives Turkish Cypriots of the island’s offshore resources and analysts fear the current tensions risk turning into a major standoff.

“The reckless behaviour of Greece — supported by European states — acting together with the Greek Cypriot administration is a danger and above all a threat to themselves,” Erdogan told ruling party lawmakers in Ankara.

His comments come a day after Cyprus said energy giants Total and Eni jointly bid for another licence to explore and exploit oil and gas reserves off the island.

“We will use our rights under international law and conventions to the end. And we are determined to put in their place anyone who wants to stop us,” Erdogan warned.

“Profiteering is wrong. Profiteering in international relations is much worse,” he said.

The Total and Eni bid came despite previous warnings by Erdogan to foreign oil companies against energy exploration off EU member Cyprus.

In November, he described those who defy Ankara on the issue as “bandits of the sea” who would face a similar response as its foes in Syria.

Turkish forces still occupy the country’s northern third after invading in 1974 in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.

The northern part of the island was declared the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognised only by Ankara. UN-sponsored efforts to reunify the island have not been successful.

The Turkish foreign ministry has previously said the natural resources around Cyprus “belong not only to the Greek Cypriot side, but to both sides”, warning it would take all necessary measures to protect its rights in coordination with the northern part.

Analysts have warned that the situation is extremely combustible and, in February, a drilling ship contracted by ENI to explore off Cyprus abandoned its mission after Turkish warships blocked its path.