ATHENS – As the West Capella drilling vessel, contracted by France’s Total in association with Italy’s ENI, is about to start drilling at Block 11 off Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) only a few days after UN-sponsored reunification talks collapsed in Crans-Montana, there are concerns that Turkey may cause tensions in the area.

“Cyprus does not have the means and cannot react physically to any belligerent actions by Turkey,” Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe on July 11, adding that Nicosia can only complain to the United Nations and the European Union and request intervention by the international community. “But I do not believe any actions by Turkey will stop drilling unless such actions affect the safety of staff involved in drilling activities. This is Total’s position,” Ellinas said.

Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe on July 12 that although Ankara does not recognise Cyprus’ right to exploit its hydrocarbons within its EEZ, it is in fact isolated. “(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan wants to show his muscles and by extension Turkey’s strength in the Eastern Mediterranean in justifying his rhetoric about Turkey being a regional superpower, but his hands are tied,” Filis said. “If Ankara provokes a hot incident in its attempt to block or stem the upcoming explorations in Cyprus’ EEZ, then it will have to confront not only Nicosia but the majority of the international community and the global energy community. Therefore, it will probably avoid actions that could further harm its profile as a non-reliable and non-constructive actor in the wider region,” Filis said.

A Cyprus Government spokesperson told New Europe on July 11, “Our actions take place within the framework of international legality and the relevant United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea”. Turkey was expected to begin navy and air force drills in the area on July 12.

Ellinas reminded that France’s Total says that it was awarded the license for Block 11 legally and threats by Turkey will not deter it. “It will get on with the job,” he said.

Asked if France and Italy are likely to support albeit diplomatically Cyprus since their companies are involved, Ellinas said, “Definitely. This is what happened when ENI was drilling in Block 9. Italy provided political support and Turkey’s provocations did not stop drilling,” he said.

Ellinas reminded that Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades also confirmed that drilling would proceed as planned. In fact Total’s President of Exploration & Production Arnaud Breuillac confirmed at the World Petroleum Congress (WPC) in Istanbul that Total has no concerns, Ellinas said.

Meanwhile, while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Istanbul to attend WPC and receive an award for services to the oil industry but also meet with Erdogan, US Vice President Michael Pence called Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on July 10 and the Vice President underscored continued US support for a comprehensive settlement to reunify the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.

Asked if the US can also play a role given that US company Noble Energy was the first to drill offshore Cyprus, Ellinas said Washington confirmed Cyprus’ right to develop its EEZ. “In addition 36 senators have written to Tillerson asking him to support Cyprus against Turkish threats. And the US supported Noble when drilling in Block 12 and faced similar problems,” Ellinas said.


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