Istanbul, Turkey – Turkey signs maritime boundaries deal with Libya amid exploration row in Mavi Vatan. Governments of Turkey, Libya struck deal on 27 November 2019 setting out their maritime boundaries in Eastern Mediterranean region. Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) announced that pacts with Turkey over maritime jurisdiction areas as well as military and security cooperation went into effect.
According to the Libyan GNA’s Justice Ministry, the internationally recognized government’s Presidential Council requested relevant departments to bring the pacts into force following their ratification. The pacts are set to be published in Libya’s Official Gazette at the beginning of 2020, the ministry added.
Signed on 27 November 2019 and passed by Turkey’s parliament, the memorandum determining both countries’ marine jurisdictions rejects unilateral and illegal activities by other regional countries and international firms and aims to protect the rights of both countries in line with the international law of the sea.
Turkey declared the maritime pact went into effect. The Mediterranean region is estimated to boast millions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic meters of natural gas, worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Turkey, for its part, has urged regional countries to take an equality-based approach, but its calls have largely fallen on deaf ears. Turkey continues its drilling and discovery operations in the region under the protection of the country’s navy.
Turkey does not want any escalation in the region but stands ready to respond to possible hostilities. Since 2011, when longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed, Libya has seen the emergence of two rival seats of power: one in eastern Libya, to which putchist military commander Khalifa Haftar is affiliated, and the Government of National Accord, which enjoys UN recognition.
Mavi Vatan, or Blue Homeland – Turkey’s national maritime doctrine legalizing extensive maritime jurisdiction in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas – The UN-recognized Libya’s Tripoli government and Turkey concluded an agreement on 27 November 2019 on their respective sea borders that sees the two countries as maritime neighbours, drawing Turkey’s marine boundaries across an area that discounts maritime claims of Greek islands, including Crete.
The agreement with Libya is a product of Turkey’s Mavi Vatan doctrine. As far as its Mediterranean portion is concerned, it refers to a huge sea area across half of the eastern Mediterranean that limits the continental shelves of the islands of Cyprus, and the Greek islands of Rhodes, Kastellorizo, Karpathos, Kassos and the eastern section of Crete.
The Mavi Vatan doctrine was grounded with Turkey’s maritime supremacy in areas marked out by Mavi Vatan and eventually beyond. Turkey’s effort to project power in the Gulf and Red Sea with military bases in Qatar and Somali, and a planned naval base on Sudan’s Suakin Island are the fundamental steps in this doctrine. For now, Turkey’s maritime jurisdiction includes extensive areas of the Black, Mediterranean and Aegean seas.
The surface of this blue homeland, its water body, its seabed and the landmass under the seabed are comprising Mavi Vatan. The size of this homeland is equal to half of our landmass. Indeed, the areas in Mavi Vatan correspond to some 462,000 square kilometers.
The Mavi Vatan doctrine considers the present status quo as a second Treaty of Sèvres, referring to the treaty dividing Turkey among colonial powers which was imposed on the Ottoman Empire after its defeat in World War One and cancelled and superseded by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne after Turkey’s successful independence war.
The perpetrators of this second Treaty of Sèvres are Greece and, more recently Cyprus, both of which have competing claims to what the Mavi Vatan doctrine sees as Turkey’s maritime jurisdiction.
There are three vital security dimensions to Turkish geopolitics in the Mediterranean: “Greek/EU challenges over Turkish maritime jurisdiction areas, the potentiality of an independent Kurdistan with free access to the Mediterranean, and the future of north Cyprus with geopolitical implications for Turkey, especially on guarantee rights.
The Mavi Vatan doctrine consists of discussing deals by diplomatic policy, and that fits perfectly with Turkey’s peaceful foreign policy. Clear examples of this policy are Turkey’s searching and drilling for hydrocarbons within the Mavi Vatan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, countering of Greek violations in airspace and maritime, and implementing the Libya deal.
Turkey’s maritime policy is now being “navigated” by the Mavi Vatan doctrine. Turkey’s neighbors and its NATO allies, starting with Greece, will be invited to communicate with this open diplomatic style of foreign relations in future.
Libya’s internationally recognized government and Turkey have signed an agreement on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea that could complicate Turkey’s disputes over energy exploration with other countries.
Turkey, which announced the accord and a deal on expanded security and military cooperation in the Mavi Vatan. Tensions are already running high between Greece and Turkey because of Turkish drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus, and the European Union has already prepared sanctions against Turkey in response.
The Exclusive Economic Zone dispute has left Turkey searching for allies in the region. The new agreements were signed at a meeting between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez al-Serraj, the head of the Tripoli-based government which Turkey is backing against a rival military force based in eastern Libya.
This means protecting Turkey’s rights deriving from international law, the memorandum of understanding on the “delimitation of maritime jurisdictions. Such accords could be agreed with other countries if differences could be overcome and that Turkey was in favor of “fair sharing” of resources, including off Cyprus.
The internationally recognized government in Tripoli confirmed the new agreements. The agreement will strengthen military ties with the Tripoli-based government. Libya has been divided since 2014 into rival military and political camps based in the capital Tripoli and the east. UN-recognized Libya’s government is in conflict with forces led by Khalifa Haftar based in eastern Libya.
Haftar controls most of Libya’s oil fields and facilities but oil revenues are controlled by the central bank in Tripoli. Turkey has supplied attack drones, trucks and military equipment to UN-recognized Libyan government. Turkey-Libya maritime deal triggers Mediterranean tensions. Turkey has boosted military aid to allies in Libya, but the maritime deal that comes with it has inflamed Mediterranean geopolitics. Greece and Egypt were among those to voice vehement objections.
Two deals signed by Turkey and the internationally recognized government in Libya on maritime boundaries and military cooperation have angered their regional neighbors, ratcheting up tension in the Mediterranean over energy resources and strengthening Turkey’s ally in the North African county.
The timing of the deals comes at a moment in the Libyan conflict when Turkey’s ally Fayez Sarraj, prime minister of Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), appears to need support in pushing back the eight-month assault on Tripoli by the eastern forces of Khalifa Haftar, or LNA. The military agreement improved the security situation for the Libyan people. Turkey’s maritime borders with its “neighbor” now extend from Turkey’s southwest coast to the Derna-Tobruk coast of Libya.
Greece and Turkey have long argued claims to oil and gas reserves off the disputed island of Cyprus. The conflict has intensified with Turkish drilling operations drawing accusations of “bullying” from Cyprus and EU sanctions.
Turkey is not a signatory to the 1982 United Nations convention regulating maritime boundaries and does not recognize the Southern Greek Republic of Cyprus and its agreements for an exclusive economic zone struck with Egypt, Lebanon and Israel.
Turkey says it is operating in waters on its own continental shelf, or areas where the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has rights. Turkey’s energy imports, accounting for 75% of its energy needs in 2015, Turkey sees securing its share in a growing contest over the Mediterranean as vital. Turkey wants to stop the bleeding on energy and develop oil and gas sources.
But the deals also appear to represent an attempt to jockey for position in the event of an eventual resolution of the civil war in Libya, with influence over reconstruction contracts and Libya’s oil industry the prize. While Haftar currently controls most of the oil fields, Turkey believes the situation will be completely different after a political settlement. If Turkey can sign formal agreements with the internationally recognized government it can thereby ensure a share in Libyan oil.
The timing of Turkey’s renewed military support comes with the GNA under increasing aerial strikes in Tripoli. While Turkey had previously complied with requests for external actors to reduce the supply of weapons to both sides to improve the chances of dialogue, the GNA may be feeling shortchanged.
There is a bit of an asymmetry where the GNA are being asked to make concessions ready for a political settlement. Yet in their eyes, the aggressor in this latest bout of conflict, Haftar, is not being asked to really make concessions and continues to intensify attacks on Tripoli.
Increasing reports of mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group tipping the scales in Haftar’s favor has raised US’s fears of a growing Russian influence in the region, leading to speculation the US greenlighted the deal with Turkey through NATO.
US is very dissatisfied with Russia’s positioning in the Eastern Mediterranean, whether it be in Syria or Libya. While Turkey juggles its strategic relationships with Europe, Russia and NATO through arms deals and energy projects, the country “could be leveraged to help here but this necessarily involves strategic rights or gains for Turkey. The current UN arms embargo against weapons transfers to Libya has had little effect.