European leaders warned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday to stop bullying Turkey’s neighbors amid simmering tension over maritime and energy rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
The warnings came as Ankara said its Yavuz drillship would continue its search for oil and gas off Cyprus until Oct. 12, despite international demands to withdraw. Ankara had already angered the EU by sending research ships with naval escorts to work in Greek territorial waters.
The Yavuz will be accompanied by three other Turkish ships, and Turkey said all other vessels were “strongly advised not to enter” the area. “Turkey is and will always be an important neighbor, but while we are close together on the map, the distance between us appears to be growing,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.
“Yes, Turkey is in a troubled neighborhood. And yes, it is hosting millions of refugees, for which we support them with considerable funding. But none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbors.”
Cyprus is pressing the rest of the EU to impose fresh sanctions on Ankara over the drilling, and European Council chief Charles Michel vowed on Wednesday that the bloc would defend the island’s rights. He is in Cyprus before an emergency meeting of EU leaders next week that will address Turkish actions in the eastern Mediterranean, with sanctions a possibility.
“The European Union stands in solidarity with Cyprus as it faces a grave situation,” Michel said. “I believe we must be very firm when it comes to defending the rights of all member states, including Cyprus.”
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Michel’s visit came at an “extremely worrisome” time. “Turkey continues to violate our maritime zones with illegal drilling.” He said the bloc should show its readiness to take action to protect its members’ rights.
“Respect for the sovereignty of all member states should remain a rule that no one can ignore or show contempt for,” Anastasiades said. “As long as there are illegal actions against member states, the EU’s response should be immediate.”
Cyprus was ready to engage in talks with Turkey to resolve their differences, but it would not respond to intimidation, Anastasiades said. “Nicosia has been always ready for a dialogue, but for that to be effective it needs to be clearly defined based on international law, without blackmail or threats.”
Source: Arab News