Will Turkey sink or swim in the East Med

2 mins read

You can tell the summer is in full swing because it’s the time when Turkey likes to play the game of brinkmanship in the East Med.

Ankara has a new drillship it wants to show off – the fourth, coincidentally, it has acquired since Cyprus started searching for hydrocarbons around 2007.

Before Nicosia took the bold step of searching for oil and gas, Turkey didn’t own a drillship or care much about the territorial waters off Cyprus.

Since international companies have entered the fray to search for energy riches in the island’s exclusive economic zone, Turkey has decided to lay claim to it all.

It doesn’t recognise the Republic or the sovereignty of its EEZ when it involves natural gas exploration by the Italians, French, Israelis and Americans.

This is the same trick used in the Aegean, where it likes to redraw maps that transform Greek islands into Turkish red.

Such grandiose schemes of wishful thinking are there to sow seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of claims in the waters off Greece and Cyprus.

Turkey usually plays ‘god cop, bad cop’, which makes it hard to pin it down in the international arena, where Cyprus usually loses in diplomacy.

It is constantly changing the rules of engagement, making itself indispensable to the West and the Russians – be it over migration, Syria or Ukraine.

Look how Erdogan got away with buying Russian missiles, and Biden was happy to sell him F-16s despite the NATO member deviating from the defence script.

Then Ankara stepped in to broker a deal over blocked Ukrainian grain being allowed to leave port so the world wouldn’t starve.

Another layer that buries the Cyprus problem is dealing with a Turkey that makes a habit of making itself important during a crisis.

So, this creates a lot of background noise when the Cypriots wheel out their stale Turk-bashing rhetoric that nobody pays attention to.

Like it or not, Cyprus is an international afterthought – a bygone problem with too many unknowables and retractable positions.

The shifting sands of time have made Cyprus an irrelevance to the outside world – no matter how much Cypriot politicians believe they have the key to unlock division.


Nicosia hosted its annual diaspora conference this week with no big ideas apart from the routine backslapping of token acknowledgement to overseas Cypriot.

A lot is said about how respected they are, but the government only pays lip service to the diaspora without utilising its full potential or talent pool.

Preaching to the old guard will not change anything, especially when generations of Cypriots have lost faith in the political leadership.

Cyprus has tried hard to make itself a player in the region, which is why it doggedly stuck to the task of gas exploration with little to show for its endeavours.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has helped turn the tide toward energy security and the need for Europe to guarantee an alternative gas supply with Moscow ready to close the taps.

During an energy crisis, untapped Cyprus gas looks like a more viable option as the price is now right and the market is more agreeable.

As a gas producer, Cyprus would be hard to ignore.

But Erdogan also knows this, so he sends his new drillship on another Greek adventure.

Its exact destination is unknown – only Erdogan gets to choose – although the odds are it is heading for Cyprus before making waves in the Aegean.

Poking the Greek bear is a far riskier tactic than bullying the Cypriot cat – the bear has bigger claws.

Deploying a drillship in Cyprus waters again is a calculated ploy to create doubt in the minds of the international firms licensed to exploit Cypriot gas.

A mission to disrupt rather than destroy in the full knowledge that the consequences for such illegality will be the equivalent of detention after school.

Certainly, there is a small possibility that in the maelstrom of Erdogan’s bravado, Turkey could miscalculate.

Badgering a fellow EU member and hampering supply to an energy-starved Europe could prompt Brussels into tougher action.

And while harassing Cyprus, Ankara riles NATO ally Greece beyond words; then, its cavalier diplomacy will be on much shakier ground.

Although Cyprus likes to believe in ‘if only’, Turkey rarely dabbles in ‘what ifs’.