Ankara announces expansion of gas exploration operations in the Mediterranean and the European Union calls on it to stop its activities “immediately”

Turkey announced Sunday that it would expand its operations to explore gas fields in a disputed region in the eastern Mediterranean in defiance of calls by the European Union to reduce tension.

In a note published last night, the Turkish Navy stated that the “Yavuz” gas exploration ship, which has been deployed off the coast of Cyprus for months, would carry out its activities from August 18 to September 15 in the southwest of the island.

The Turkish navy said in the note, “We strongly advise not to go to the exploration area”.

European Union Foreign Minister Josep Borrell on Sunday until Ankara stops “immediately” its activities to explore for gas in the Mediterranean, after Turkey announced the expansion of these operations.

“What Ankara has announced is unfortunately fueling tension and insecurity,” Borrell said in a statement published by his office.

He added that, against the backdrop of tension in the eastern Mediterranean, “this announcement contributes to undermining efforts to resume dialogue and negotiations”.

It will also not contribute to reducing tension, which “is the only path towards stability and durable solutions, as the foreign ministers reiterated Friday” during a video conference of European foreign ministers.

Borrell called on “the Turkish authorities to immediately stop their activities and launch a dialogue in good faith with the European Union”.

Ankara’s announcement to expand its activities comes in an atmosphere of growing tension in the eastern Mediterranean, where the discovery of large gas fields in recent years has aroused Turkey’s interest.

Last week, Ankara sent the seismic survey ship “Oruj Reis” accompanied by two military ships off the coast of the Greek island of Kastellorizo, in the southeast of the Aegean Sea, which angered Greece and worried the European Union.

Oruj Reis, which was deployed between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete, is expected to carry out its activities until August 23.

On Friday, European foreign ministers expressed their solidarity with Greece and called for a reduction in tension.

On Thursday, France, whose relations with Turkey have been strained in recent months, strengthened its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean in support of Athens.

In this atmosphere of tension, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday expressed his readiness for dialogue, explaining that his country would not retreat “in the face of sanctions and threats”.

On Sunday, the Turkish Defense Ministry published photos of naval maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean. 

The footage showed warships accompanying the seismic survey vessel “Barbaros Khair El Din Pasha”, Turkey.

On the other hand, Turkish Vice President Fuad Oktay confirmed his country’s categorical rejection of France’s deployment of military aircraft in the administration of southern Cyprus, in contrast to the 1960 agreements.

This came in a statement issued by Oktay, on Sunday, commenting on the announcement of the entry into force of an agreement between Roman Cyprus and France on the first of August.

The agreement announced, on Saturday, between Greek Cyprus and France, is the “Defense Cooperation Agreement”, which was signed on April 4, 2017.

He added, “It is unacceptable, under any circumstances, for France to conduct joint military exercises with the administration of southern Cyprus, and to deploy military aircraft to the latter, in contrast to the agreements of 1959-1960”.

He stressed the need for France to avoid “adventures” regarding the Cyprus issue, and to act more responsibly.

Oktay called on the international community, and in particular the European Union, to put an end to the “hostile and law-violating French behavior” in the region.

He ruled out the success of initiatives that exclude Ankara and Turkish Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.

He concluded, “Turkey will continue to stand by the Turkish Cypriots, and absolutely support them in their legitimate and righteous struggle. 

It will also firmly continue its activities (in energy exploration) within its jurisdiction areas, via the Yavuz ship.

Earlier, two “Rafale” fighters and one designated for cargo, “C-130”, belonging to the French Air Force, landed at Andre Papandro air base in Cyprus.