At a trilateral summit between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece in Cairo on 8 October, the leaders of the three countries slammed Turkey’s drilling in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

AP quoted Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who hosted the meeting with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Cairo, as saying unilateral practices by Turkey risk destabilising the whole eastern Mediterranean and “damage the interests” of its countries while Anastasiades said Cyprus would resort to “all available diplomatic means to halt Turkey’s aggression.” Their statements follow Turkey’s announcement that it sent a drilling ship to the area where Nicosia has licensed foreign companies, including US major ExxonMobil, to drill for oil and gas in the Cyprus’s EEZ.

Asked if these statements deter Turkey from further exploration given that it is also busy with the operation in Syria, Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe on 10 October Cyprus is receiving strong political and diplomatic support, with the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom asking Turkey to cease activities in Cyprus EEZ. “Unfortunately, these are not having any impact on Turkey. It has responded by making it clear that it will not back down and it will carry on drilling. Right now, there is no deterrence,” Ellinas said.

The leaders of Egypt, Cyprus and Greece also condemned Turkey’s planned military offensive into northeastern Syria. Ellinas argued that, so far in Syria Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using his direct line to US President Donald Trump as license to operate with impunity. “He has also been very careful to develop and maintain a close relationship with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and not to do anything that would incur Russia’s wrath. And he is not even paying any attention to the EU – he is using the 3.5million migrant and refugee card to neuter EU’s response to its actions in Syria and Cyprus,” Ellinas argued, adding: “The threat of 3.5million migrants and refugees flooding Europe is rendering the EU powerless in terms of taking any meaningful actions to deter Turkish aggressiveness around the East Med region.”

According to the Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO, the European Commission confines itself to strong, critical, statements, but as these are not supported by any serious measures, they are ineffective. “Turkey knows that and ignores them. It has also learned, by testing international community reactions to its aggression, that is can ignore these at very limited cost,” Ellinas quipped, adding that as as a result, Ankara feels free to pursue its aims in the region with impunity. “In effect there are no checks and balances that in the past acted as a restraint. Right now, there are no restraints. If no effective action is taken, it does not bode well for the region. Turkey feels emboldened and free to use its might to enforce its will, and increasingly without restraint,” Ellinas said.

Cooperation of Egypt, Cyprus and Greece could facilitate the export of hydrocarbons from the region to Europe, boosting EU energy security. Ellinas said cooperation with Egypt could help export some of Cyprus gas to Europe through Egypt’s liquified natural gas (LNG) plants. He reminded that there are ongoing negotiations – with intergovernmental agreements already signed – to export gas from Cyprus’ Aphrodite field to Egypt’s Idku liquefaction plant. But surplus gas in Egypt – which by next year should lead to full utilisation of its LNG plants – and low global gas prices are challenging this, Ellinas said.

Asked if cooperation with Egypt will lessen the chances of the East Med pipeline planned to carry gas from Cypriot and Israeli fields via Greece to Europe, Ellinas said as far as the East Med gas pipeline is concerned, without a substantial reduction in costs – especially in the asking price for the gas before it enters the pipeline – it is not commercially viable.

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