In this Tuesday, July 9, 2019 photo, a helicopter flies near Turkey's drilling ship, 'Fatih' dispatched towards the eastern Mediterranean, near Cyprus.
In this Tuesday, July 9, 2019 photo, a helicopter flies near Turkey's drilling ship, 'Fatih' dispatched towards the eastern Mediterranean, near Cyprus.

ISTANBUL - Turkey's dismissal of recently imposed European Union sanctions as "valueless" puts the country on a collision course with the EU. Ankara believes it has the upper hand over Brussels in an escalating dispute over energy rights on Cyprus.

Turkey and the EU remain at loggerheads over the exploration for hydrocarbons in waters near the divided island of Cyprus. The Greek Cypriot side of the island is the only internationally recognized government and is a member of the EU.

Nicosia insists it has sole rights to control exploration of potentially vast reserves of energy, creating an economic exclusive zone. But Ankara argues the Turkish Cypriot administration, which only it recognizes, must have a say in the exploration of the island's resources. Turkey has sent two research ships to search for energy in the contested Cypriot waters.

On Monday, Brussels imposed sanctions on Ankara for "illegal drilling" in a member's territorial waters. The measures included ending high-level meetings, a call for a review by the European Investment bank on lending to Turkey, and a suspension of talks on international air transport agreement.

Ankara is dismissing the sanctions. "[The EU] had to take these valueless decisions just to satisfy Greek Cypriots," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at a press conference.

FILE - Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 1, 2019.

Some analysts see the lack of severity of the EU measures as weakness by Brussels. "These European sanctions — it's nonsense, it's wrong and meaningless," said international relations professor Huseyin Bagci, of Ankara's Middle East Technical University. "Not all the European countries have the same views [over Cyprus]. I don't expect the EU can do more on the embargo and sanctions."

Ankara believes it has leverage over the EU. "Whether the issue of migration or others, they [EU] have to come to us. There is no other way," Cavusoglu said Monday.

Migrants

In 2016, Turkey signed an international agreement with the EU to control migrants and refugees seeking to enter Europe. 

The deal ended the mass exodus into Europe, from Turkey, which peaked at more than a million refugees and migrants passing through Turkey in 2015.

"The European Union is in a dilemma. They don't know how far they can go to make Turkey angry," said Bagci. "The migrant issue is definitely a very important asset for Turkey. The government can open the border anytime and we can see many happy people joining the European Union."

Sanctions

The EU is also aware that any significant financial or economic sanctions on Turkey's already weakened economy could prove double-edged.

"European companies, Italian, Dutch, German and British invested heavily in Turkey; there are risks there," said political science professor Cengiz Aktar of the University of Athens. "Actually, the EU would love to avoid any retaliation against Turkey. They have done the minimum."

"There is too much at stake," he added. "Also exactly like the United States, the EU does not want to push Turkey into the lap of Russia; that is the strategic concern of the EU together with their American ally."

Russia

Ankara's deepening relationship with Moscow is causing growing alarm among Turkey's Western allies. Turkey's procuring of a Russian missile system saw Washington this week cancel the sale of its advanced F-35 jet.

FILE - First parts of a Russian S-400 missile defense system are unloaded from a Russian plane near Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019.

Russian presidential spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized the EU sanctions against Turkey, saying they were shaped by the mentality gained by "years of colonialism." Language analysts say it usually plays well in Ankara, which often accuses Europeans of behaving like imperialists.

Emboldened by its perceived strong hand, Ankara is ramping up the pressure on the EU over Cyprus. This week, Turkey is sending a third research ship to Cyprus' contested waters.

Analysts warn Ankara risks overplaying its hand. "Turkey in the past has been overconfident, overestimated her capabilities," said Bagci. "This is the wrong policy, and as a result, the present alienation from its allies in Europe and America."

Vulnerability

Analysts warn that while Ankara believes it has the upper hand over the EU on Cyprus, it remains in a vulnerable position.

"Turkey has already experienced all these crises before [over Cyprus], but this time, the difference is Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel — is like a block behind the Greek Cypriots. This is a new situation," Bagci said. "Turkey has to defend the rights of Turkish Cypriots on the island, and Turkey will not take a step back. But yes, Turkey is isolated."

The continuation of Ankara's robust stance on Cyprus could also ultimately force the EU's hand.

"There is a kind of sanctions working group in the EU, working every day on how to react to Turkey's threats and provocations. They have never done this before except with Russia," Aktar said. "They are reflecting; what will we win and what they will lose. But one thing for sure, they will never let the republic of Cyprus alone; they don't understand this in Ankara."