The two nations stand on the brink of conflict over energy resources
The immediate reason is the countries’ competing claims to natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean. The wider cause is the mercurial conduct of President Erdogan of Turkey. The countries’ Nato allies and the European Union, to which Greece belongs and Turkey is linked in a customs union, should urge negotiation. Yet arbitration should not be mistaken for equidistance. Turkey’s claims and conduct
are not defensible.Greece can reasonably expect its allies to state this to Mr Erdogan, who, like his ally Vladimir Putin, is wont to engage in brinkmanship.The eastern Mediterranean basin has abundant energy resources in the form of deep-sea gasfields. Their exploration over the past decade might have been a catalyst for regional co-operation and the resolution of longstanding disputes. Instead, it has taken these conflicts to another level. Ankara insists that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus must benefit from the gas reserves that surround Cyprus. It opposes the actions of the Republic of Cyprus and of international energy companies in exploiting these resources.No other country recognises Northern Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus, an EU member state, is the legitimate government for the whole island. Turkey has long insisted that the government in Nicosia has no authority to sign agreements and award concessions over drilling rights unless it comes to an agreement with Northern Cyprus over revenue sharing. There is no basis for this claim, and in the meantime the Republic of Cyprus has co-operated with Egypt, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian Authority to establish a regional energy authority to co-ordinate policies.Ankara sent a seismic survey ship, the Oruc Reis, this week to conduct research in waters around Greek islands. Turkish governments have long claimed that the country and its Cypriot enclave have the right to benefit from the region’s energy reserves. Turkey balks especially at Greek insistence that each of the hundreds of Greek islands in the Aegean has its own continental shelf and rights to surrounding resources. Yet Greece’s claim for territorial waters surrounding the islands is in accord with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which Turkey is not a signatory.In effect, Turkey is declaring its unwillingness to abide by legal requirements in the resolution of disputes over territory and resources. The danger that this could spark conflict is acute. Turkey is a substantial naval power. EU states have hastened to dial down the tension, with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, issuing a direct appeal to Mr Erdogan to pull back. President Macron of France has unequivocally backed Greece.Mr Erdogan has shifted the position of Turkey in the international order, and not in a good way. If Turkey negotiates in good faith, then energy competition ought to be capable of resolution. Yet Nato cannot have a member state that refuses to live within its long-established borders and encroaches on Greek and Cypriot waters. That is a non-negotiable principle, and its leaders should lose no time in impressing it upon Mr Erdogan.