Cyprus refuses to back EU sanctions on Belarus unless action taken against Turkey

Bloc members back Cypriots in maritime dispute with Ankara as Eastern Med states form gas export pact

Turkey’s political isolation deepened on Tuesday when six states formally established an organisation to promote natural gas exports from the east Mediterranean but did not include Ankara.

Egypt, Israel, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Jordan signed the statute to establish the Cairo-based East Mediterranean Gas Forum in an effort to advance regional stability and prosperity.

The forum has already held several meetings in the Egyptian capital this year and it said any country in the Eastern Mediterranean could apply to join.

Turkey is engaged in a dispute with Cyprus and Greece over maritime boundaries and access to energy resources in contested waters in the Eastern Mediterranean, an issue that was raised during the European Union's Foreign Affairs Council on Monday in Brussels.

While there were limited signs on Monday that mediation may resume between Athens and Ankara, Cyprus refused to back EU sanctions on Belarus unless action is taken against Turkey.

And on a visit to Cyprus on Tuesday, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou called for a united stand against Turkey.

“Let us fight with unshakable faith and perseverance for the end of the Turkish occupation and the reunification of Cyprus,” she said.

But Cyprus’s stance was criticised by members of the bloc even though the EU states have largely backed it in its quarrel with Turkey.

Latvia was particularly vocal, with Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics saying the inability to take action against Belarus sent the wrong message.

“It is regrettable that today we could not decide on sanctions on violations of human rights there due to ‘a hostage taking’ by a member state,” he said. Cyprus was the only EU country to veto sanctions against Belarus.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides defended his country’s stance and said the EU must take a coherent stance.

“Our reaction to any kind of violation of our core basic values and principles cannot be a la carte. It needs to be consistent,” he said.

The EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said Turkey’s drilling and exploratory operations in Cypriot waters were “regrettable” and would be the main issue to deal with at the European Council later this week.

He said it was a “high-voltage political problem” the European Council would have to look at.

“I cannot tell you how the European Council will solve it,” Mr Borrell said.

“It will have to be discussed and I perfectly understand the situation of Cyprus and we discussed it in Berlin, and in Berlin we decided that if Turkey does not change its behaviour, and it has not changed its behaviour in respect to Cyprus, then we will have to consider sanctions.”

Clement Beaune, France’s minister for European affairs, said he was sympathetic towards Cypriot concerns over Turkey, but added that sanctions on Belarus were still important.

Cyprus’s President Nicos Anastasiades warned last week of double standards and said the EU must use all measures to counter Turkey’s activities.