- Associated Press - Monday, November 11, 2019

BRUSSELS (AP) - The European Union on Monday unveiled a system for imposing sanctions on Turkey over its unauthorized gas drilling in Mediterranean waters off Cyprus but no Turkish companies or officials have yet been targeted.

EU foreign ministers adopted a mechanism making it possible “to sanction individuals or entities responsible for, or involved in, unauthorized drilling activities of hydrocarbons.”

EU member countries can now come forward with names of those they think should be listed.

The sanctions would involve travel bans and asset freezes on people and “entities” like companies or organizations. EU citizens and firms would be banned from providing them funds.

Turkish warship-escorted drillships began exploratory drilling this summer in waters where EU-member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights, including areas where European energy companies are licensed to conduct a hydrocarbons search.

Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state and claims nearly half of the ethnically split island nation’s exclusive economic zone as its own.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence.

In a statement, the Turkish foreign ministry said Ankara would continue protecting its energy interests and those of Turkish Cypriots and that any hope it would step back from such drilling is “futile.”

The ministry also accused the EU of lending “unreasonable and incomprehensible support to an invalid and ineffective” Cyprus government and of no longer being able to take a “constructive and useful” stand on the search for energy reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Cypriot government hailed the bloc’s decision as a tangible sign of solidarity and that buttresses the country’s efforts to defend its sovereign rights against “Turkey’s aggressive policies.”

In a statement, Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said it’s hoped these legal actions will nudge Turkey into “realizing that it’s neither possible nor acceptable to arbitrarily violate international law.”

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