Turkey Lashes Out at Allies in Mediterranean Border Dispute

Cyprus and Greece are backed by America and France.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a Victory Day ceremony in Ankara, August 30 (Presidency of the Republic of Turkey)

Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean show no sign of easing.

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused the EU of “modern-day colonialism” for supporting Greek claims in the region.

His government has accused the United States of violating the “spirit” of the NATO alliance by lifting an arms embargo on Cyprus.

Greece and Turkey are both in NATO, but they have a history of antagonism and overlapping maritime border claims. Those long-standing disputes have been rekindled by the discovery of national gas in waters around Cyprus, the northern half of which Turkey recognizes as an independent republic.


The Turkish research ship Oruç Reis is carrying out seismic surveys in disputed waters, the first step in searching for undersea oil and gas.

Turkey also announced it will conduct a military exercise off northwestern Cyprus in the coming days.


France has backed up its support for Greece with warships and fighter planes.

Greek media report that the country is in talks to acquire eighteen Rafale jets.

United States

The United States had avoided getting involved until Tuesday, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington would waive restrictions on the sale of non-lethal military equipment to Cyprus.

Congress lifted an arms embargo last year the United States had imposed in 1987 — in an attempt to encourage the peaceful reunification of the island — and replaced it with a law that restricts the transfer of sensitive technologies.


Cyprus has been divided between the majority ethnic-Greek Republic of Cyprus, which is in the EU, and almost entirely ethnic-Turkish Northern Cyprus since 1974, when Turkey invaded the island to prevent its unification with Greece. A United Nations peacekeeping force has kept the two sides apart since.

Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Israel are cooperating to exploit gasfields in the Eastern Mediterranean, including plans to build a pipeline to Europe. Total of France and Eni of Italy are among the companies involved.

Turkey feels left out. It has made a maritime border pact with the government in Tripoli — which is fighting the Egyptian- and French-backed Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar — but this hasn’t been recognized by other countries. A recent Egyptian-Greek border treaty, in turn, hasn’t been recognized by Turkey.