Russia warns Turkey over Cypriot
gas plans By Vladimir Socor
On May 3, Moscow criticized Turkey's plans
to explore natural gas deposits around the divided
island of Cyprus, under the protection of Turkish
naval and air power. Russian Foreign Affairs
Ministry's chief spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich,
cautioned Turkey that its actions "may exacerbate
the situation on the territory of Cyprus".
The Greek Cypriots and Israel are
coordinating their plans to develop offshore gas
deposits and export the product in partnerships
with international companies. One export route
under consideration would run via mainland Greece
The Republic of Cyprus,
Greece and, recently, Israel are all
involved in disputes
with Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Explicitly siding with the Greek Cypriots (and
implicitly with Israel and Greece), Moscow is
positioning to bid for offshore gas exploration
licenses, also hoping for control of the delivery
These gas projects and potential
exports to Europe are creating an economic basis
to the geopolitical alignment among Israel, Cyprus
and Greece. The swing factor in this development
is Israel, now turning toward these historic
opponents of Turkey, after Ankara's reversal of
the Turkish-Israeli strategic partnership.
Israel, Cyprus and Greece have been
holding intensive talks in recent months at the
prime minister, ministerial, and chiefs-of-staff
levels, about offshore gas projects and regional
Greek and Greek Cypriot
observers commonly suggest that a
Greece-Cyprus-Israel triangle is necessary to
counter-balance the increasingly assertive Turkey.
The official consultations within this triangle
are developing, however, in bilateral formats,
carefully avoiding the appearance of a tripartite
grouping, although the agenda is largely a shared
Turkish naval and air force
activities around Cyprus are perceived as
intending to discourage offshore exploration and
development. Potentially, this affects Russian
interests there no less than Western interests.
The Republic of Cyprus (Greek Cypriot
government in Nicosia) holds that it is fully
entitled to develop offshore mineral resources
within the state's internationally recognized
borders and exclusive economic zone (as delineated
by agreement with Israel).
Nicosia, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
(TRNC, which Turkey alone recognizes) could share
the benefits of such development, if and when a
federal solution reunifies the divided island.
Ankara and the TRNC argue, however, that
Nicosia may not unilaterally initiate exploration
and development at offshore deposits, including
those off the island's southern coast. Turkey does
not recognize Cyprus as a sovereign country with
an exclusive economic zone, opposes mineral
projects there in the absence of a political
settlement, and deems such activity prejudicial to
the island's reunification.
initiated seismic research and exploration
drilling for gas and oil off the island's southern
coast in September 2011 and off the northern coast
in April 2012. Ankara has warned the Greek
Cypriots and Israel that Turkish warships and
planes based in the TRNC are on hand to escort
Turkish exploration vessels.
Cypriot government has hinted via the press
repeatedly that it would allow Israeli warships
and planes to operate in its waters and air space.
Israel, however, shows no appetite in becoming
involved even indirectly in the Cyprus dispute, or
otherwise "containing" Turkey.
of demarcating exclusive economic zones in the
Eastern Mediterranean is far from complete. The
Lebanese government officially claims a portion of
Israel's Leviathan gas deposit, the richest in
Israel's exclusive economic zone.
Hezbollah movement threatens unspecified
"asymmetrical" actions from Lebanon to back up
that claim. Syrian claims would likely overlap
with Israeli and Cypriot claims, but the Syrian
government is currently too distracted by internal
unrest to act in the maritime area.
seems willing to put its friendship with Turkey at
risk by endorsing the "triangle's" position on
zoning and exploration rights, against Turkey's
position. Moscow's minimal objective is access to
Cypriot offshore gas deposits for Gazprom and
Novatek, in the framework of the Greek Cypriot
government's international tender for 12 offshore
Russia's maximal goal is to
aggregate Cypriot and Israeli offshore gas volumes
for transportation and reselling via Gazprom on
international markets. Toward that goal, Gazprom
recently concluded a preliminary (non-binding)
agreement to purchase liquefied gas volumes from
Israel's Leviathan project.
Gazprom is one of the bidders for DEPA, the gas
transmission pipelines in mainland Greece. If
successful in that bid, Gazprom would undoubtedly
strive to increase its intake of Cypriot and
Israeli offshore gas, transport it (probably in
liquefied form) to mainland Greece, and use DEPA
pipelines to re-sell it on European markets.
Vladimir Socor is a Senior
Fellow of the Washington-based Jamestown
Foundation and its flagship publication, Eurasia
Daily Monitor, and is an internationally
recognized expert on the former Soviet-ruled
countries in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus
and Central Asia. Socor is a regular guest
lecturer at the NATO Defense College and at
Harvard Universityís National Security Programís
Black Sea Program. He is a Romanian-born citizen
of the United States based in Munich, Germany.