UAE, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and France denounce Turkey’s ‘interference in Libya’, drilling off Cyprus

Statement seen reflecting growing international wariness about Ankara’s aggressive policies.
Tuesday 12/05/2020
Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz escorted by a Turkish Navy frigate in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus, last August. (Reuters)
Trespassing suspicions. Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz escorted by a Turkish Navy frigate in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus, last August. (Reuters)

LONDON--The foreign ministers of the UAE, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and France “strongly condemned Turkey’s military interference in Libya” and its attempts to “illegally conduct drilling operations”off Cyprus.

At the end of a teleconference held Monday, the five ministers urged Turkey to “fully respect the sovereignty and the sovereign rights of all states in their maritime zones in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

They “strongly condemned Turkey’s military interference in Libya, and urged Turkey to fully respect the UN arms embargo, and to stop the influx of foreign fighters from Syria to Libya.”

They noted that “these developments constitute a threat to the stability of Libya’s neighbours in Africa as well as in Europe.

The ministers raised alarm over the implications of agreements signed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), last November.

The signed “memorandums of understanding” paved the way for Turkish military intervention in Libya and produced a maritime border demarcation map that is favourable to Turkey in the Mediterranean.

Turkey's Bayraktar TB2 drone at Gecitkale Airport in Famagusta in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. (AFP)
Turkish wars of drones. Turkey's Bayraktar TB2 drone at Gecitkale Airport in Famagusta in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. (AFP)

The deals led to increased military involvement by Turkey in Libya, where Ankara is supporting militants and militias loyal to the GNA with military equipment and mercenaries in their fight against the Libyan National Army (LNA).

The five foreign ministers said the Erdogan-Sarraj deals are “in contravention of international law and the UN arms embargo in Libya, and that both undermine regional stability.”

The ministers also condemned “the illegal Turkish movements” in the territorial waters and the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus, which they said represent “a violation of international law according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

They noted that it “is the sixth attempt by Turkey in less than a year to illegally conduct drilling operations in Cyprus’ maritime zones.”

According to Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah, Turkey’s drillship, the Fatih, is “set to continue operations in the Black Sea and make its first drilling project in July,” while another drillship, the Kanuni, is “said to be ready to start its operations following a relaxation on measures against the pandemic.”

Lebanese-flagged cargo ship suspected of transporting weapons to the GNA docked in the port in Genoa, northern Italy, last Febuary. (AP)
Weapon shipments. Lebanese-flagged cargo ship suspected of transporting weapons to the GNA docked in the port in Genoa, northern Italy, last Febuary. (AP)

The five ministers also condemned “the escalation of Turkey’s violations of the Greek national airspace, including over-flights of inhabited areas and territorial waters in violation of International Law.”

According to experts, the statement issued by the five nations reflected growing wariness on the part of countries in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the broader international community over Turkey’s aggressive policies and recent provocative moves, including attempts to conduct oil and gas drilling operations off Cyprus, military jet flights over Greek airspace, efforts to exploit the refugee crisis to exert pressure on European neighbours and Ankara’s direct involvement in wars in Syrian and Libya.

Turkey watchers see Ankara’s domestic political and economic problems as fueling its risky actions overseas and its increasingly militaristic approach to foreign policy.

Turkish-Greek relations expert Angelos Syrigos told Voice of America that Ankara “wants to deflect attention from its domestic troubles” and “keep showing it remains a regional superpower.”

While Ankara  accused the five countries Tuesday of pursuing “regional chaos and instability” in the eastern Mediterranean, Libyan National Army spokesman Brigadier-General Ahmed Mesmari said the stance taken by the five countries constitutes “a form of recognition of the legitimacy of the LNA and emphasises the central role of the National Army in fighting terrorism.” He protested the involvement of Turkey in the Libyan war. “The Turkish regime has dispatched about 17,000 terrorists from Syria to Libya in recent days,” he said.