NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to intercede with Turkey's leader to try to ease rising tensions over oil and gas exploration in eastern Mediterranean waters that Cyprus claims as its own, the Cypriot government said Thursday.
Government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said Putin made the pledge during a 45-minute telephone conversation with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who appealed to the Russian leader to personally step in so Turkey “is convinced to cease its unlawful actions.”
The European Union has already imposed sanctions on top officials from Turkey’s petroleum company and curtailed some funding to Turkey over its pursuit of energy resources in Cypriot waters. The United States has also urged Turkey to stop “provocative” drilling efforts that increase regional tensions.
“(Putin) promised that he would intercede with (Turkish) President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan in order to deescalate the crisis,” Koushos told reporters.
“(Putin) assured that he’s observing the situation ... with great concern, and always supports the resolution of differences through negotiations based on principles of international law,” the government spokesman added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to travel to the Cypriot capital on Sept. 8 “for a more detailed assessment of developments and for joint action to ensure peace and stability" in the region, Koushos said. Anastasiades also accepted Putin's invitation to visit Moscow when conditions permit.
European Union member Cyprus has strong traditional ties with Russia.
In its readout of the conversation, the Kremlin said that “regional issues, including the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, and prospects for Cyprus settlement” were discussed, along with bilateral issues.
Turkey has dispatched warship-escorted research vessels and drill ships numerous times in the last year to search and drill for gas in waters between the two countries where Cyprus claims exclusive economic rights.
This week, Ankara backed off from a similar gas exploration bid near three eastern Greek islands that lie close to the Turkish coastline, amid concerns of a military clash with Greece.
But Turkey insists that it has rights to offshore energy reserves in the eastern Mediterranean and around ethnically divided Cyprus and says it's also acting to protect the interests of Cyprus' breakaway Turkish Cypriots.
“We will carry on with our work in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean until the end, which we began to protect our rights,” Erdogan said in a pre-recorded message for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Nicosia says Turkey’s actions violate international law and argues that Ankara is using the Turkish Cypriots as an excuse for for its own regional power grab.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state and claims 44% of the island’s exclusive economic zone as its own.
Turkish research vessel Barbaros is currently sailing off Cyprus’ southeastern coast — in an area the island republic has already licensed to Italian and French energy companies for exploration. Earlier, Turkey issued a Navtex, or international maritime safety message, that it would be carrying out a gas search “in accordance with international law.”
Anastasiades called the move “unhelpful” and further stoking tensions.
Although hailing Turkey’s suspension of a gas search in the south Aegean, Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas on Thursday called Barbaros’ actions as “a tangible continuation of (Turkey’s) lawless behavior.”
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told private Antenna TV that Athens would answer the Cyprus Republic’s call for support, including backing additional EU sanctions against Turkey.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed.