The European Union and Turkey are arguing over access to the vast natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea around Cyprus.
Turkey announced the possibility of a new military conflict amid a dispute with Greece over a gas field in the Mediterranean. The European Union calls on Ankara to refrain from provocations and is preparing a package of tough sectoral sanctions.
Military escalation is real
For several years, Ankara has periodically carried out exploration of deposits on the offshore section, which Greece and Cyprus consider part of their exclusive economic zones.
In 2009, a large oil and gas field was found off the southern coast of Cyprus. It is estimated that it can cover four percent of the gas demand in the European market.
In January 2019, representatives from Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, and Palestine announced the formation of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, headquartered in Cairo.
Left overboard, Turkey and Libya signed in November of the same year a memorandum of understanding on the delimitation of sea zones, which will allow Ankara to conduct drilling operations in search of oil and natural gas.
Offshore development by France's Total and Italy's Eni has sparked protests from Turkey, and it has sent its geological exploration vessels and warships to the disputed area to intimidate international oil company-owned drilling rig ships.
Then the parties exchanged only loud and caustic statements. However, in mid-August, Turkey again sent an exploration vessel accompanied by a navy to the disputed area near Cyprus. This time, Greece brought its armed forces to alert and sent their warships.
Soon, Greece's allies dispatched aircraft and navy to the region to conduct military exercises.
Now the conflict is fueling a regional power game, into which even the countries of the Persian Gulf have become involved. The situation is of serious concern to the EU and the United States.
In July, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, after talks in Athens with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias, urged Turkey to stop drilling in the economic zone of Cyprus and not to start similar work near the Greek islands.
He noted that the European Union considers it necessary to conduct a dialogue with Turkey, since it is a strategically important country, вЂњboth within the framework of NATO and in migration issues.вЂќ However, he noted that the sanctions are being discussed.
On August 28, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, said that the European Union would accelerate the development of sanctions against Turkey for drilling in the eastern Mediterranean.
He noted that the EU intends to give a chance to dialogue with Turkey on this issue, but in case of failure by September 24, it will prepare additional measures against Ankara. And we are talking not only about personal but also about industry sanctions.
вЂњThere is growing disappointment in the EU with Turkey's behavior,вЂќ Borrell said at a press conference following an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Berlin.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, August 27, the Greek parliament ratified an agreement with Egypt on the delimitation of maritime zones in the Mediterranean. The treaty gives Athens the right to a part of the sea shelf, which Ankara considers to be it's own.
However, Turkey intends to continue exploration for gas fields in the disputed areas. Ankara will also begin its own military exercises in the Mediterranean next month.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said in an interview with Anadolu on August 29 that Ankara will take all necessary measures to prevent the expansion of Greek territorial waters in the Ionian Sea.
вЂњAttempts by Greece to expand its territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles will not be recognized by Ankara. This step could cause military conflict,вЂќ Oktay said.
The risk of a military escalation in the current environment is quite real, said Nigar Heksel, Turkey analyst at the International Crisis Group.
вЂњTurkey believes that Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, with the support of the EU and Ankara's opponents, are trying to usurp the Eastern Mediterranean by ousting Turkey from there. [Ankara] views military threats as an opportunity to bring Greece to the negotiating table,вЂќ RBC quotes her. She noted that Turkey is determined.
At the same time, the first sanctions against Turkey because of its drilling activities were adopted by the European Union last summer: then it was about reducing financial and credit assistance, as well as curtailing negotiations on some issues.