NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus on Friday lashed out at Turkey's new attempt to drill for gas in Cypriot waters where European energy companies are already licensed to conduct a search, calling it a "severe escalation" and vowing to fight the move.
In a strongly worded statement, the Cypriot government denounced the arrival of the Turkish drillship Yavuz in an area licensed to France's Total and Italy's Eni as "utterly provocative and aggressive behavior," in defiance of international calls to respect the east Mediterranean island nation's sovereign rights.
It said the Turkish government is putting regional stability and security at risk by choosing to "irreversibly depart from international legality," adding it would not yield to "threats and bullying tactics" of a bygone era.
"Illegality, no matter how often it's repeated, does not generate law," the Cypriot government said, adding that it would step up its legal and diplomatic fight, especially within the European Union.
Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state and claims some 44% of the island's exclusive economic zone as its own, saying it's acting to protect its interests and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots.
The EU has already imposed sanctions against Turkey for earlier drilling activities in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights but that aren't licensed out to energy companies. The Yavuz is the second warship-escorted drillship that Turkey has dispatched to drill off Cyprus, joining the Fatih and other research vessels.
The Cypriot government has issued international arrest warrants against top executives from energy companies assisting the Turkish drillships.
The Yavuz has sailed into an area some 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the town of Paphos on Cyprus' southwestern coast, which is licensed to Eni and Total but which Turkey claims partly falls within its own continental shelf.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines following a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a coup aiming at union with Greece. Although the island joined the EU in 2004, only the southern, internationally recognized part enjoys full membership benefits.
Britain's Minister for Europe, Christopher Pincher, said his country "deplores" any unlawful drilling off Cyprus. Speaking after talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Pincher said the U.K. supports Cyprus's right to extract hydrocarbons from inside its exclusive economic zone and that any potential wealth from such activities go toward the benefit of all Cypriots.
Anastasiades spoke to European Union Council President Donald Tusk who repeated the bloc's condemnation of Turkey's actions and reaffirmed EU solidarity with Cyprus, according to a Cyprus government statement. Tusk said the matter will be taken up at the next EU leaders' summit later this month.
The Cypriot president also agreed with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to take coordinated action within the EU and the U.N. to counter Turkey's activities.
Greece's foreign ministry earlier Friday said Turkey's actions "totally contradict any meaning of legality."
Eni and Total have teamed up to expand their oil and gas search off Cyprus and currently hold licenses for seven of Cyprus' 13 blocks inside the island's economic zone.
Other licensed companies include ExxonMobil and Texas-based Noble Energy along with partners Shell and Israel's Delek.