Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said Turkey’s drilling for gas Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is a sign of “weakness”.
He claimed there would be “grave consequences” for Turkey’s relations with the European Union and for regional stability if the drilling continued.
EU member states and the European Commission have condemned Turkey’s actions and threatened to impose sanctions.
Tsipras was responding to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments that he would not be thwarted by the threat of sanctions.
The Greek prime minister spoke to Greek military personnel stationed in the Cypriot village of Malounda, saying that “we proceed only in the framework of international law and whoever violates that, the sovereign rights of Greece and the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus, will face repercussions”.
Tsipras said “everyone knows” that Turkey’s “futile” exploration in Cypriot waters where there was no naval deterrent indicated Turkish weakness.
Erdogan had dismissed Tsipras, saying he was “speaking to himself, when he says some things”.
Tsipras said: “This is a turbulent period for our region during which challenges have not ceased, instead have multiplied,” adding that Greece and Cyprus remained united on the issue.
“We want peace and stability. We are a country that favours peace and dialogue. At the same time, we are determined to defend our sovereign rights as we have learned to do so from our history.”
Erdogan is under considerable domestic pressure with the lira in meltdown, the economy faltering and the loss of the prized mayoral rerun election in Istanbul at the weekend. The populist strongman might well be keen to bolster his nationalist electoral base by engaging in provocative behaviour in alleged support of the Turkish Cypriot minority.
Erdogan said Turkey was determined to continue drilling.
“We have four ships in the area and we have taken measures. The prime minister of Greece has been talking on his own, but regardless of what he says, we have rights there,” Erdogan reportedly said.
“Until we achieve a fair distribution of natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean, we will continue to move decisively in the area,” he added.
The strongman leader warned that Turkey would prevent any gas drilling operations that disregarded the rights of Turkish Cyprus.
Non-Turkish observers will probably be hoping Turkey’s drill ships fail to find reserves, which would raise the stakes of the standoff and make it difficult for Erdogan to back down.
A Turkish drillship, the Fatih, has been probing off the west coast of the divided island and Turkey has dispatched a second vessel off the east coast.