As announced late last year, Ankara is sending its Deepsea Metro 2 oil and gas exploration drill ship, in yet another show of force designed to scupper Cyprus’ ongoing gas exploration programme.

The Deepsea Metro 2 will be used by the Turkish Petroleum Company (TPAO). It can drill to a depth of 40,000 feet, is 229 metres in length and 35 metres wide, and will conduct gas exploration in Cyprus’ EEZ.

Erdogan threatened Cyprus in an address to his MPs in Ankara, underlining that Ankara is closely monitoring Nicosia’s gas and oil exploration program, and that he will take all necessary steps to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriots.

Erdogan stated that Ankara had given “a lesson” to players who sought to conduct gas explorations while Ankara was preoccupied with dealing with “terrorists”, a reference to the operation to annihilate the Kurds in Syria.

Turkish warships in mid-February blocked and threatened to sink a drill, the SAIPEM 12000, hired by the Italian energy giant ENI to conduct exploration in Block 3 of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Ankara has not dared, however to impede ExxonMobil ships – The “Med Surveyor” and the “Ocean Investigator” – which are conducting preliminary explorations in Block 10 of Cyprus’ EEZ, even as American warships from the Sixth Fleet were patrolling the broader area, initially in the context of a joint military exercise with Israel.

Soliciting Putin’s help to free officers

At the same time – after briefing the EU, Nato, and the UN – Athens has made moves intended to solicit the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who maintains closer ties with Turkey than any Western country at the moment, in securing the release of the two Greek army officers being held captive in a Turkish prison.

At a 19 March EU Foreign Affairs Council, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias was able to persuade his colleagues to tone down the Council’s statement on the nerve gas poisoning on British territory, allegedly ordered by the Kremlin, of former double agent Sergei Skripal, a move that was reportedly viewed favourably by Moscow.

At the same time, Pontian Greek-Russian billionaire Ivan Savvidis, who had served as a deputy of Putin’s party and has maintained a cordial relationship with the Russian leader, issued a plea to Putin in a lengthy letter that he signed in his capacity as president of the Federation of the Greek Communities of Russia, to intercede with his political ally, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to help secure the release of two Greek army officers imprisoned by Ankara.

Reporting: Manos Charalambakis, Aris Ravanos