Turkey has signed an agreement with Libya’s internationally recognised government on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea that could affect oil and gas exploration of other countries and heighten geopolitical tensions in the volatile region.
Ankara reportedly announced the accord and a deal on expanded security and military cooperation on 28 November.
Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe on 29 November that the immediate impact of the Libya-Turkey agreement is on the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of Greece and Egypt.
Both Greece and Egypt, but also Cyprus, have already strongly condemned this as not being in agreement with international law, blatantly ignoring the rights of islands. Cairo dismissed the deal between Ankara and Tripoli as “illegal” and Athens said the accord is “completely unacceptable” because it ignored the presence of the Greek island of Crete between the coasts of Turkey and Libya and summoned Turkish Ambassador Burak Ozugergin to the Greek Foreign Ministry, Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper reported.
Cyprus’ Foreign Ministry on 29 November also condemned the deal. “Such a delimitation, if done, would constitute a serious violation of international law,” an announcement said, CyprusMail reported. “It would be contrary to the recognised principle of the convention on the law of the sea and the rights of islands’ EEZ,” it added. “With the distortion of the law of the sea and the counterfeiting of geography – Turkey will gain no footing in the Eastern Mediterranean,” it concluded.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed that with the memorandum of understanding on the “delimitation of maritime jurisdictions Turkey is protecting “rights deriving from international law.” Reuters quoted him as saying that such accords could be agreed with other countries if differences could be overcome and that Ankara was in favour of “fair sharing” of resources, including off Cyprus.
Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe on 29 November Turkey’s illegal acts do not have legal repercussions. “Ankara’s attempt to agree with an unstable regime, which represents only part of Libya and therefore any deal it signs is uncertain, is a result of its isolation particularly from energy developments. Given that Turkey cannot agree with any other regional actor not only in the delimitation of the continental shelve or EEZ but also on how to stabilize the region and make it prosperous, it is left with no option but to approach a semi-rogue regime in order to showcase its regional power,” he said, adding that the message it wants to send is that any agreement or plan, including energy projects, cannot be fulfilled without Ankara’s consent.
Ellinas said the Libya-Turkey agreement indirectly affects Cyprus as well, as Turkey uses the same justification to delineate its ‘EEZ’ in the Mediterranean. “In effect, this ignores the entitlement of islands, including Cyprus and Crete, to an EEZ. Turkey defines its ‘EEZ’ to be coextensive with its continental shelf, based the relative lengths of adjacent coastlines, which completely disadvantages islands. It is a ‘unique’ interpretation not shared by any other country and not in accordance to the United Nations UNCLOS treaty, ratified by 167 countries but not Turkey,” Ellinas said.
He argued that Ankara appears to be picking and choosing, as it has used UNLOS principles to delineate its ‘EEZ’ in the Black Sea but does not accept them in the Mediterranean. “That may be challengeable under customary international law,” the Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO said.
“In all likelihood Turkey is doing this, as well as through its aggressive actions in carrying out exploration and drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ, in order to establish a position of strength from which eventually to enter into negotiations. But also as a reaction to the growing cooperation among almost all the other countries bordering the East Med. Turkey’s claims have no internationally recognised legal basis,” Ellinas said.
According to Filis, it is not clear whether there is an agreement – rather, it seems to be a preliminary step of expressing their intention to sign an agreement in the future. “But the most dangerous repercussion might be Turkey’s attempt to use it as a basis for projecting its supposed sovereign right to proceed with seismic activities in the area between Rhodes and Crete, especially in the southeastern part of the matter, thus confirming its strategic interest for the triangle between Crete, Kastellorizo and Cyprus,” he said.
Asked what could be the US and EU reaction to this agreement and how does it affect geopolitics in the region, Ellinas said both Washington and Brussels, and all other neighbouring countries in the East Med, recognise Cyprus’ and other countries’ rights to their EEZs declared in accordance to UNCLOS. He explained that as UNCLOS is not legally enforceable against a state that declines to sign and ratify it, the way to resolve this may eventually be through negotiations or arbitration on the basis of internationally recognised law and not through aggressive actions as Turkey is now pursuing.