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Sanctioning Belarus or Turkey? – the latest from the October EU Summit

Mixed external relations interests almost caused deadlock in EU Council

by: Isti Miskolczy

At the very begging of October, the members of the European Council convened to discuss their joint stance on different external policy matters, such as the renewing Armenian-Azeri conflict, the economic emergence of China, or sanctioning Belarus officials for their brutal reaction to the peaceful protests after the presidential elections.

Nevertheless, when it came to introducing sanctions against President Lukashenko and his officials, Cyprus insisted on sanctioning both Belarus and Turkey at the same time. Cypriot President, Nicos Anastasiades called for a “united, firm and determined response to Turkey’s illegal drillings in Cyprus”.

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay


The EU has been planning to impose sanctions on Belarus for more than a month now but, up until this summit, it was unachievable as Cyprus always linked it to sanctioning (or at least condemning) its neighbour, Turkey, over drilling and military actions in the East Mediterranean.

At the summit, finally, the EU Council indeed condemned the “violations of sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus” and called on Turkey “to abstain from similar actions in the future”.

“All differences must be resolved through peaceful dialogue and in accordance with international law. In this context, the European Council reiterates its full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus, whose sovereignty and sovereign rights must be respected.” – the leaders of the block also added to their official concluding document.

But why is it the national interest of Cyprus to sanction Turkey? What exactly is going on in the East Mediterranean? Some might ask, and the answer is nothing but complicated.

The Eastern Mediterranean

Escalated tensions between Turkey and Cyprus over the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean region have been ongoing ever since the discovery of fossil energy resources underwater. Turkey is said to be having great ambitions towards exploiting these reserves, inasmuch as last year the East Med Gas forum was established by Israel, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Jordan, and Palestine to jointly outweigh Turkey’s strategic expansion.

In September 2020 Ankara even conducted military exercises in Northern Cyprus which is the disputed side of the country, only being recognised by Turkey as the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

However, a month later “a Turkish drillship [had] left the area where it was operating southwest of Cyprus and reached Turkey’s coast for maintenance in a move the European Union said would help ease tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.”the Middle East Monitor reported.


The high interest and presence in the region can be partially explained by all of Turkey’s current gas supply contracts ending at the end of 2020. However, conflicts with Russia ‒ who is Turkey’s main supplier besides Iran and Azerbaijan ‒ over Libya and the Nagorno-Karabakh will result in President Erdogan having to find other fossil fuel suppliers if he wants to continue meeting the growing gas demand in his country.

Nevertheless, sanctioning Turkey for its military behaviour is not that easy. Being at a strategical geographical location (at the border of the Arab world), and also a member state of NATO (similarly to many of the EU countries) provides them enough negotiation power to get by with their shuttlecock policy.

Not to mention the TANAP and TAP Gas Pipelines which are providing gas resources to Europe from Azerbaijan, via Turkey, excluding Russia. TANAP has been operating for two years now and TAP is said to be starting to deliver gas by the end of this year.

These are all enhancing Turkey’s negotiating power and role as a regional energy centre.

Besides, the TAP project was partially funded via loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank, which, on the other hand, decreases the willingness of the EU to hard-sanction Turkey.

Thus, it was not surprising that only two countries of the member states of the EU stood hard against Turkey besides Cyprus and Greece. As Al Jazeera reports: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was emphasizing the possibility of sanctions and the termination of EU enlargement talks, parallel to Emmanuel Macron, who stated that solidarity with Cyprus and Greece must be “non-negotiable”.


Even though it was only condemnation and not a single sanction on Turkish drilling and military ships that was achieved, sanctions on Belarus were still adopted by the EU Council over the latest summit.

“These involve restrictive measures – such as travel ban and asset freeze – against 40 individuals identified as responsible for repression and intimidation against peaceful demonstrators, opposition members, and journalists in the wake of the 2020 presidential election in Belarus, as well as for misconduct of the electoral process”another press release contains.

Photo of Belarus protests. Photo courtesy of Artem Podrez via Pexels

The EU Council managed to develop a lot more unified standpoint against Belarus than Turkey. Thus, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean seems to still be unresolved.


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