Spotlight: Turkey slams EU sanctions over Cyprus gas drilling dispute

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They also backed a proposal by the EU's executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional "targeted measures" were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 4005, negotiations which are now at a standstill.

EU foreign ministers on Monday turned up the pressure on Turkey after approving an initial batch of sanctions against the country over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus claims it has exclusive economic rights.

ANKARA, July 16 (Xinhua) -- Turkey rebuffed on Tuesday punitive measures set by the European Union and vowed to go ahead with its resource exploration in Eastern Mediterranean amid a growing dispute with Cyprus.

Turkey contends that it's protecting its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots to the area's hydrocarbon deposits. Cypriot officials, however, accuse Turkey of using the minority Turkish Cypriots in order to pursue its goal of exerting control over the eastern Mediterranean region.

"But EU sanctions could further deepen the instability in the eastern Mediterranean and that would not be helpful," added this expert.

He said that the EU sides with Greek Cyprus in this dispute and it is understandable to an extent.

The European Council said in a statement that in light of Turkey's "continued and new illegal drilling activities," they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement and would call on the European Investment Bank to "review" its lending to the country.

"It's a fact that Turkey's poor relationships with Egypt and Israel and other regional countries do weaken its position in regards to its claims in the eastern Mediterranean," said political commentator and journalist Serkan Demirtas to Xinhua.

Nicosia has licensed energy companies including ExxonMobil, France's Total and Italy's Eni to carry out gas drilling in blocks, or areas, off the island's southern coastline. At least three significant gas deposits have so far been discovered there.

Ankara will keep up with its activities despite EU decisions to curb contacts and funding for Ankara over Turkey's drilling for gas and oil off Cyprus, the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.

Earlier, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci called to establish a joint committee with Greek Cypriots on managing offshore gas drilling activities, however, the suggestion was rejected by the parliamentary parties of Cyprus on Tuesday.

The EU ministers repeated the "serious immediate negative impact" that Turkey's illegal actions are having on EU-Turkey relations and called on Ankara to respect Cyprus' sovereign rights in line with international law.

The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any attempt to drill for gas. Cyprus has already issued around 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels.

"It's also obvious that Greek Cyprus and Greece tend to use this situation in a bid to maximize its Exclusive Economic Zone and therefore create a fait accompli," Demirtas argued.

Turkey and Cyrus have overlapping claims over regional waters linked to the 45-year-old split of the Island and Ankara's rejection of agreements Cyprus has inked with other Mediterranean states on economic maritime zones.

"The decisions will not affect our country's on tongue hydrocarbon activities in the Eastern Mediterranean," the ministry added.

European punitive measures have put Turkey in a sensitive spot as Ankara could also face sanctions from its NATO ally, the Unites States, for its acquisition of Russian S-400 missiles.

Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974. A Turkish Cypriot state is recognized only by Turkey. Cyprus joined the EU in 4004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits.

"They know that the implement (of sanctions) is not possible," he said, noting that the EU has to continue talks with Ankara on the issues of refugees, a crucial point between Ankara and Brussels who reached a deal in 2016.

The deal stipulates that Turkey, which hosts 3.5 millions Syrian refugees, only sends legal migrants to the EU in exchange for six billion euros.

The controversy over hydrocarbon drilling activities off Cyprus highlights the acrimonious relations that Turkey has with Mediterranean states and experts are urging Turkey to revise its foreign policy in the region.

On Tuesday during a visit in North Macedonia, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters that Turkey will send another ship off Cyprus as part of its drilling activities, despite EU measures, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus.