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Cyprus divided. Stock photo from Pixabay

French and Italian war ships head for Cyprus

The Italian Navy is heading for Cyprus: the frigate Virginio Fasan in the waters of Nicosia is a sign of extreme interest in Mediterranean politics, given that it is the second time that an Italian war ship has stopped (within a few weeks) in a Cypriot port.

Published: February 10, 2020, 5:34 am

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    Nicosia

    And it happens at the most critical phase of the internal power relations in the Mare Nostrum between Turkey and the EU.

    The signal from the Italian and NATO forces is obvious. And it is no mystery that the Italian, French, Greek and Cypriot maneuvers in the sovereign waters of the island also have the meaning of a warning to Turkey, since the Italian Navy itself speaks, in the press release, of “activities, presence and surveillance of maritime spaces, in compliance with international law and to protect national interests”.

    It is a sparse but eloquent statement since, in theory, it is sovereign waters of an allied country, surrounded by Italy’s commercial and strategic partners. Even so, ships are constantly sent to monitor this particular maritime sector.

    The response stems from two needs. The first is to monitor the waters of the block in which Italian oil concern Eni operates, given that the gas from the Cypriot seabed is extremely important for Italian national interests.

    But control stems above all from a need to curb the moves of Turkey, which for some time, have been present in the waters of Cyprus. And the eastern Mediterranean it is likely to blow up at any moment, given that Recep Tayyip Erdogan does nothing to hide his will to expand his country’s maritime borders. This was confirmed also by the agreement reached between Ankara and Tripoli for the new limit of the respective exclusive economic zones.

    Europe, and especially the countries involved in Cypriot gas and the Levant basin, are watching these developments with great concern. Turkey has set its sights on the seabed of Cyprus and is above all concerned with preventing the East-Med pipeline – a project of fundamental importance for Israel, Cyprus, Greece and the European Union – to take shape.

    The desire of Ankara is to extend its network of influence throughout the enlarged Mediterranean starting from Syria, the eastern Mediterranean and northern Cyprus, and it is clear that the European powers involved in this part of the sea are worried, especially because gas interests are an integral part of any country’s national strategy, also for southern European countries.

    Clearly France and Italy do not have the same interests. And relations with Turkey are not the same. But the Mediterranean crisis has a significant impact on mutual relations, considering that France has a naval base in Cyprus, has a strong interest in the Cypriot fields, has strategic interests in Lebanon and Syria and in Libya it sides with the opponent of Turkey: Khalifa Haftar.

    Italy, on the other hand, is in a rather uncomfortable position. The solid relations with Cyprus are paired with the necessary relations with Erdogan’s Turkey, with whom they share a very difficult coexistence in Tripoli and in the western part of Libya and intense commercial ties.

    But the gas from the Nicosia block, where Eni has long ago started its explorations, is a key point on the Italian political agenda. And also the recent military orders of Egypt (which in fact undermine Paris) indicate the Italian will to emphasize its convergence with the anti-Erdogan blockade.

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