Turkey has ratched up tensions in the eastern Mediterranean by sending a military drone to the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to protect ships drilling for oil and gas in the region.
The drone took off from an airbase in Dalaman, on the southern coast of Turkey, and landed at the airport of Gecitkala in the breakaway Turkish republic, a state which is recognised only by Ankara.
The drone was immediately deployed on its first mission over the sea, according to Turkish news agencies.
The internationally-recognised Republic of Cyprus claims all the waters surrounding the island but that is disputed by Turkey and Northern Cyprus, which insist they too have a right to hydrocarbons lying beneath the sea bed. Ankara claims 44% of the island’s exclusive economic zone.
The drone will be used to oversee prospecting for oil and gas in Cypriot waters
Turkey embarked on efforts to prospect for oil and gas in Cypriot waters in July, sending two drill ships escorted by a warship to the island.
The EU has criticised the move, calling it illegal, and has threatened to impose sanctions against Ankara.
Kudret Ozersay, the foreign minister of the northern, Turkish part of Cyprus, said only unarmed drones would be deployed as there was “no need” for armed aircraft.
But last week the foreign minister of Turkey said it might use military force to block drilling in Cypriot waters that it claims.
Asked if Ankara would consider using military means to prevent drilling, Mevlut Cavusoglu said “of course”.
The maritime prospecting issue has raised tensions between the two halves of Cyprus, which has been split since a Turkish invasion of 1974. Talks about reunification broke down two years ago.
Cyprus has been split since 1974, with the Greek and Turkish halves separated by a UN buffer zone
Against a backdrop of deteriorating relations with the West, Turkey’s president on Sunday threatened to close two key US bases that the country hosts – Incirlik, from where American jets target Islamic State targets, and Kurecik, home to a NATO radar station.
The threat by Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in response to Washington threatening sanctions over Turkey buying a missile defence system from Russia.
It was also apparently a sign of Turkish anger after the US Senate followed Congress by voting to recognising the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 as genocide.
In addition to the Cyprus row, relations between Turkey and Greece are at a low ebb after Ankara signed a highly contentious deal with Libya in which the two countries claim a vaste swathe of the Mediterranean.
Athens has responded angrily to the provocative move, which implies that Turkey has rights over waters that skirt the Greek island of Crete.
Greece says the deal is a violation of the UN Convention on the Law of Sea and has lodged objections with the UN.
The Greek government last week expelled Libya’s ambassador as a sign of its displeasure.
“This agreement was compiled in bad faith,” said Stelios Petsas, a spokesman for the Greek government. “The sea zones of Turkey and Libya do not meet, and nor is there a sea border between the two states.”
Alexander Schallenberg, Austria’s foreign minister, said: “It’s a little bit astounding how they split up the Mediterranean among themselves. We’ll have to see how we deal with it.”