Tensions between Turkey and Cyprus that have been simmering for decades flared up again this month after Cyprus called Turkey a “pirate state” following the Turkish President’s renewed vow to start drilling for natural gas off the coast of the disputed island.
"Turkey is turning into a pirate state in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey insists on going down the path of international illegality," a statement by the Cypriot president issued Sunday said, as quoted by AFP.
Turkey’s president, Recept Tayyip Erdogan last year angered Cyprus when he staked a claim to some of the natural gas wealth that is being discovered in the waters around the island.
Turkey will continue exploring for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean waters around disputed Cyprus, and “No project can be realised if Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus are not involved,” Erdogan said in August.
Since then, Ankara has been moving forward with its drilling plans despite criticism from not just Cyprus but also Greece and the European Union. Just this week the EU warned Turkey to reconsider its drilling plans after Erdogan said drilling would start “as soon as possible.” The EU also called these exploration plans illegal.
But why is Erdogan so intent on drilling for gas offshore Cyprus, where Turkey controls about a third of the territory after two consecutive invasions in 1974? Because Cyprus is part of the new hot spot in natural gas: the Eastern Mediterranean.
The area began attracting attention after a couple of major finds off the coast of Israel made headlines and after Italy’s Eni discovered the Zohr gas field offshore Egypt. Two discoveries were made offshore Cyprus as well.
One is the Aphrodite field, just 30 km from the giant Leviathan gas field in Israeli waters. The field is part of Block 12, which is estimated to contain some 3.6-6 trillion cu ft of natural gas. The other is Glaucus-1, which was made by Exxon and Qatar Petroleum earlier this year and is ranked the third-largest gas discovery off the Cypriot coast. It contains an estimated 682 million barrels of oil equivalent, of which about 90 percent is natural gas.
A large consumer of natural gas, Turkey is understandably interested in boosting its supplies from its own production rather than imports. At the moment, Turkey is almost entirely dependent on gas imports, most of which come from Russia, Iran, and Azerbaijan, although the country also buys LNG from a dozen exporters. Last year’s consumption is seen at some 44-44.5 billion cu m, down on 2018 because of unusually warm weather but still a consumption rate sizeable enough to prompt efforts to secure its own supply.
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But for Turkey it’s not only a question of securing natural gas supply. The access to natural gas goes hand in hand with Ankara’s geopolitical expansion in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Earlier this month, President Erdogan announced a cooperation deal with the Libyan government that will see the opening of a maritime corridor between the two countries across the Eastern Mediterranean. The deal also included stipulations about joint oil and gas exploration. The EU and Cyprus slammed the deal.
Turkey’s expansion in the region has also got on Israel’s nerves. Earlier this month, Israel, Cyprus, and Greece signed a deal that would see natural gas from the Israeli offshore deposits flow to Europe. The EastMed pipeline will boost Israel’s role as energy supplier to Europe but also enhance the importance of Greece and Cyprus as “key links in Europe’s energy supply chain,” AFP and the Times of Israel reported at the time.
This is at odds with Turkey’s expansionist policies and the traditional, historically determined mutual hostility between Ankara, Athens, and Nicosia. Taken together, Erdogan’s vision of a new Ottoman empire and the need to secure the long-term supply of natural gas will likely continue to keep tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean high despite the EU’s threats of more sanctions against Turkey.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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