Tensions are flaring between Europe and Turkey over Ankara’s activity in the east Mediterranean Sea, as well as its involvement in Libya.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas proclaimed in no uncertain terms that Turkey must stop drilling for natural resources in waters if there is to be progress in its ties to the European Union.
“We have a very clear position – international law must be respected so progress in EU-Turkey relations is only possible if Ankara stops provocations in the eastern Mediterranean,” Maas said during a visit to Athens yesterday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu insisted last week that his country’s seismic research and drilling operations in the contested waters is legitimated by an agreement between Ankara and Libya’s internationally recognized government. Turkey has long supported Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), while Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt back rebels in the east known as the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar. Those foreign powers have been cited by the United Nations for supplying weapons in defiance of its arms embargo on the war-torn North African nation.
Ankara protested to both Berlin and Brussels on Monday after a German military unit deployed with the EU’s Irini Operation stopped and tried to search a Turkish container ship over suspected weapons shipment to Libya. According to Refinitiv Eikon data, the 16,000-ton Roseline A container ship sailed from the Turkish port of Gemlik near Bursa last week and was last seen heading southwest towards Libya. Germany’s Defense Ministry confirmed in a statement that soldiers from the Hamburg frigate boarded the vessel but were forced to disembark before locating any contraband since Turkey prevented a full search.
Ankara later released footage showing armed troops and its own sailors with hands placed on their heads on the bridge of what it said was the ship at sea southwest of the Greek Peloponnese peninsula. “We protest this act, which was carried out by force and without authorization (and) retain the right to seek compensation,” demanded Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy.
The two countries traded accusations over the incident on Monday. Ankara furiously summoned the envoys of the EU, Germany and Italy for a dressing-down over claims the incident, claiming the Roseline A was carrying humanitarian aid and that the Hamburg violated international law by not waiting for permission from Turkish authorities to board. Berlin charged ‘implicit permission’ was ‘standard practice’ after the passage of 4 hours with no reply to the request to board. “All procedures were followed correctly,” maintained a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.
The spike in friction comes as Turkey declared its intention to extend seismic survey work being carried out by its Oruç Reis ship in the eastern Mediterranean until 29 November – despite an ongoing dispute with fellow NATO member Greece over borders of each nation’s continental shelves and conflicting claims to hydrocarbon resources. The conflict erupted in August when the Oruç Reis entered waters in August that are claimed by Greece and also Cyprus.
Ankara withdrew the vessel in September for what many hoped was a diplomatic gesture. Greece, France and Germany were particularly incensed when Turkey announced the ship was recalled for routine maintenance, and later returned to the disputed area.
“Despite provocations by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration we have always acted with calm and patience on the Eastern Mediterranean issue,” insisted Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan last Saturday, adding that “The EU accusations, made for the sake of solidarity among the Union, about our determined research and drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean to protect Turkey’s rights and Turkish Cypriot interests do not reflect history, law and reality.”
EU Minister for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell has warned that ties are reaching a “watershed moment” over Turkish oil prospecting in waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus, and that sanctions could be imposed next month.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Turkey’s activities in the EastMed will be closely monitored by the EU until it convenes a special meeting on the matter slated for 10 December.
Meanwhile in related developments, the acting United Nations envoy to Libya is urging the UN Security Council to take action against any parties that obstruct peace efforts in the wake of last month’s GNA-LNA ceasefire.
“More work certainly remains to be done, but the Libyans have stood up and did their part. We owe it to them to do ours by fully respecting and supporting these Libyan-Libyan agreements, which were reached under the authority of Resolution 2510 and the outcomes of the Berlin Conference,” Stephanie Turco Williams told the UNSC, underscoring, “This includes respect for the principle of noninterference in Libya’s internal affairs and full implementation of the UN arms embargo on Libya. This council has tools at its disposal, including to prevent obstructionists from jeopardizing this rare opportunity to restore peace in Libya. I call on you to use them.”
The GNA and LNA have agreed to hold talks on 24 December toward setting a date for elections. An UNSC diplomat said on condition of anonymity that, “The council is ready to support the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum will all the tools at its disposal, including sanctions against any spoilers.”
Williams said that despite some progress in implementing the announced ceasefire, neither side had yet withdrawn from the frontlines as agreed and cargo flights were still arriving at air bases controlled by both. “Allow me to reiterate that the situation remains volatile,” she stressed, adding, “There is no time for complacency while the joint military commission seeks to operationalize the cease fire agreement. The two sides have not yet begun to withdraw their forces.”
The 15-member Security Council is able to impose an asset freeze or travel ban on individuals or entities. US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft announced last week that her nation, Britain, Germany and Estonia had proposed that the UNSC’s Libya sanctions committee blacklist “some of the most egregious abusers of human rights in Libya, including Mohammed al-Kani and the Kaniyat militia.”
Libya descended into chaos after the NATO-backed overthrow of former autocratic leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.