Bluff and bluster now rule the East Med waves

3 mins read

After seeking to dominate the East Med by happily ignoring the map of the region, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pulled another rabbit out of his conqueror’s hat.

It wasn’t enough for him to redraw the Mediterranean map where Greece has no islands and that place called Cyprus doesn’t exist.

Erdogan is now a major energy Tsar.

Turkey announced its biggest ever natural gas discovery on Friday, a 320 billion cubic meter Black Sea field which Erdogan said was part of even larger reserves that could come onstream by 2023.

If the gas can be commercially extracted, the discovery could ease Turkey’s dependence on Russia and Iran for energy imports while encouraging it to expand further out to sea.

Turkey’s biggest-ever find is also one of the largest global discoveries of 2020 which may see tensions rise closer to home as Erdogan becomes emboldened by this discovery.

Although it could take a decade for gas from the Black Sea to come online it would need billions of dollars of investment to build up the infrastructure for production and supply.

Turkey isn’t in the best position financially as the lira keeps tripping over itself while Ankara seemingly wants to get involved in any regional conflict where it can bully the opposition.

Cyprus has dabbled in exploiting natural gas.

What it has discovered remains under the seabed as the cost involved leaves little margin for profit, especially with depressed oil prices.

Ankara is another reason why Cyprus has found it difficult to explore its natural resources.

Apart from physically blocking an energy company from doing its job in Cyprus waters, it has recently upped the ante by sending in a drill and survey ship escorted by the Turkish navy.

Quite cleverly, Turkey argues that Cyprus has no sovereignty, as it does not recognise the Republic while it is also quite happy to shrink Greece’s maritime boundaries.

Greek and Turkish warships have bumped into each other while a Turkish survey vessel was going about its illegal business.

This type of friction has triggered Athens and Nicosia to ask more from its EU colleagues who seem well-versed in cheering from the sidelines while doing nothing in particular.

Erdogan has already stated that his form of gunboat diplomacy would accelerate as Greece and Cyprus have no right to question his keenness to revive the Ottoman empire fuelled by East Med gas.

Greek FM Nikos Dendias made an emergency stop in Cyprus this week to coordinate policy that might buffer Turkish aggression on the high seas.

Nicosia and Athens are happy to sing from the same page, but they now understand quiet diplomacy isn’t working.

Turkey is not going to climb down anytime soon.

Out of control

With the situation rolling mildly out of control, Cyprus is beginning to show its frustration at the EU, urging it not to throw paper darts at Turkey but show some teeth that bite.

France acknowledged that another video conference of EU leaders wasn’t going to solve much and beefed up its naval presence in the region.

As the Cyprus navy consists of two rubber ducks and a whistle, the sight of a French naval ship offers some comfort about our defence capabilities.

Cyprus is looking to stand tall on the shoulders of its EU partners.

It hasn’t always worked which is why building regional alliances with Israel and Egypt is crucial to its diplomatic end game.

Without influential friends – getting the Americans onside is another plus – Cyprus knows it will become a punchbag for Turkish expansionism.

Erdogan can smell East Med gas from Ankara, and he wants a piece of the action. If he has to rewrite the geography books, then so be it.

As Turkey occupies a third of Cyprus it can also turn the screws to apply pressure.

It can be no coincidence that as the East Med energy search turns ugly, the Turkish Cypriots declare they will open the fenced-off derelict resort of Varosha to tourism.

The Turkish side is well aware of what Varosha – now a ghost town – means to the Greek Cypriots who are its original inhabitants.

They also know that opening it up (whatever that entails) will only worsen the already toxic atmosphere while administering the kiss of death to a moribund UN peace process.

There can be no winners in an energy race patrolled by warships where mistrust is the currency of exchange.

For now, bluff and bluster rule the waves.