By Dr. Rene Tebel
Last Friday, Turkish Energy Minister Faith Donmez announced, at the ceremony to launch Turkey's first drilling vessel to the Black Sea, that Turkish oil exploration operation in the Eastern Mediterranean would begin in late summer.
The following day, the Turkish Official Gazette published seven requests, in which the state-owned Turkish energy company TPAO applied for new off-shore survey and exploitation licences even a few nautical miles off the Greek islands of Rhodes Karpathos, Kasos and Crete.
This was followed by a harsh response from the Greek Foreign Minister, Nikos Dendias, who spoke of illegal actions, the summons to the Turkish Ambassador in Athens and the statement by the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, that Turkey should respect the sovereignty of Greece and Cyprus. Ankara replied that Turkey would protect its rights in the eastern Mediterranean "without any compromises," as Greek ekathimerini.com mentioned.
This marks the next round of a conflict that finally started about ten years ago with the discovery of rich gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey has no direct stake in them, but is trying to construct one for itself and for Northern Cyprus.
The key element is now an MoU that Libya and Turkey signed on 27 November 2019. It fixes the 35 km long maritime border of both countries. Ankara is using this agreement to define its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave an impression of this during a television appearance in December 2019 showing some maps. The delimitation of the Turkish EEZs also became apparent on 18 March 2020, when Turkey submitted a "letter" to the UN that accurately reflects the Turkish view: A map shows Ankara's position. According to that view islands could not claim a continuation of the continental shelf. As a result Turkey could set its Exclusive Economic Zone up to the territorial waters off Rhodos, Karpathos, Kasos and Crete.
Although this argument may violate the "regime of islands" (Art. 121, 2) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the example of the islands of Miquelon and Saint-Pierre plays into Ankaras hands. There, an arbitral court drastically reduced the Exclusive Economic Zone of the French islands off the east coast of Canada.
Ankara's plan seems clear: Turkey is trying to impose its view by threats and bypassing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, in order to persuade its neighbouring countries to make concessions. By late summer, the diplomatic "chess game" will enter the next round.
’This article was republished with the permission of Tebel Report
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.