BY DR ANDRESTINOS N. PAPADOPOULOS
The recent discoveries of natural gas and oil in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Cyprus and the wider area of the eastern Mediterranean have changed the energy map and brought forward two issues. First, the downgrading of the role of Turkey as a transit hub for hydrocarbons from Russia, the Caspian Sea and the Middle East to the European market, hence the threats against Cyprus, and second, the projection of the strategic importance of Cyprus as a means of transporting natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe, resulting in the reduction of its dependence on Russian gas.
Concerning the first, it should be mentioned that Turkey is surrounded by 70% of the world’s oil and gas reserves and its geographic location enhances its role as an energy transit hub connecting the markets that surround it. It suffices to mention the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan, the Kirkuk-Ceyhan and the Tabrir-Ankara pipelines, as well as the Blue Stream between Russia and Turkey. As a regional power, therefore, Turkey is seeking an important role not only in the protection of air and sea traffic through the Eastern Mediterranean, but also control of access to, and exploration of, the substantial resources below the seabed. Moreover, Turkish revenues from transit fees are substantial and, therefore, not at all negligible.
In view of the above, it is only natural that Turkey objects to the agreements Cyprus has signed with Egypt (2003), Lebanon (2007) and Israel (2010) delineating their respective EEZs. Furthermore, the strategic cooperation between Cyprus and Israel in the field of energy is an additional source of concern for Turkey. As a matter of fact, the heavenly-sent present of natural gas and hydrocarbons in our region has brought Cyprus and Israel closer. The negotiations on the shared development and exploitation of hydrocarbon reservoirs in the cross median line are in their final stages and the signing of the relevant agreement is expected soon.
When Noble Energy started drilling in Block 12 of Cyprus’ EEZ the reaction of Turkey was strong. Her threats, however, were met by the unanimous stand of the international community, which defended Cyprus’ sovereign right to explore and exploit the resources of its EEZ. The recent interest of 15 European and other bidders at the second licensing round angered Turkey more, as it represents not only an additional confirmation of Cyprus’ sovereign rights in its EEZ but also damages Turkish interests. In a statement, dated 18 May 2012 the Turkish Foreign Ministry calls upon the bidders to withdraw their interest and threatens not only them with reprisals, but also the Republic of Cyprus with undesirable tensions. The question arises, however, whether the bidders were unaware of Turkey’s stand on the matter or whether Turkey was expecting a change in the attitude of the international community, which defended Cyprus’ sovereign rights in the case of Block 12. The answer is obvious.
Concerning the second issue, the strategic importance of Cyprus as a transit hub for the provision of Europe with natural gas was recognised by the interest shown at the second licensing round by international heavyweights from European countries, among others, such as France, Italy, the Netherlands and the U.K. The recognition of Cyprus by EU countries as a third corridor which will provide Europe with natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean is of particular importance, as it means that any action of Cyprus in the energy field is not undertaken pro domo sua, but in the interest of Europe, whose dependence on Russian natural gas will be reduced. For Cyprus, the European involvement is a significant development, since the EU has already recognised the need for active engagement in promoting the energy infrastructure of the Mediterranean, within the framework of the importance it attaches to EU energy supplies.
These are the political dimensions which demand a wise and firm energy policy from Cyprus, within the framework of international law. It is within this framework that the Turkish threats are unacceptable and the condemnation of the provocative stand of Turkey by the Cyprus Foreign Ministry understandable. Denouncing the Turkish claims, the Foreign Ministry clearly states that an occupying power cannot dictate the policy of an independent and sovereign state. It augurs well that at this juncture the interests of foreign countries coincide with those of Cyprus.
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