Duvar English

European Union diplomats reportedly agreed to impose travel bans on two Turkish nationals and freeze their assets in retaliation for Ankara’s gas prospecting in disputed waters near Cyprus.

The decision to target the two individuals was reached at a meeting of EU diplomats in Brussels on Feb. 4, Bloomberg cited unnamed sources as saying, pending the legal paperwork and a formal sign off by ministers later this month.

While the punitive measures won’t affect Turkish companies in the hydrocarbon sector, they mark an extraordinary escalation against a country which is still officially a candidate for EU membership.

Turkey is at loggerheads with EU member Greek Cyprus over potentially lucrative gas reserves in the southeastern Mediterranean and has been sending drilling ships to explore the area. Greek Cyprus says the waters are part of its exclusive economic zone, while Ankara says it is protecting the claims of Turkish-Cypriots in the northern part of the divided island.

Even though the EU has squarely backed Greek Cyprus, the bloc is wary of jeopardizing an agreement under which Turkey helped resolve the 2016 refugee crisis in exchange for financial assistance. Despite pressure from Greek Cyprus, negotiations for targeted measures against Turkish individuals have been dragging for months and other EU governments have so far resisted more aggressive Cypriot proposals that would target Turkish companies involved in the sector.

Still, the spat adds to a series of disputes — from sliding democratic standards to Turkish interventions in Syria and Libya — which have pushed relations between Ankara and the EU to breaking point. The bloc has already suspended Turkish accession negotiations, and most member states imposed an arms embargo over Ankara’s military operations in Syria.

Turkey is also set for a clash with Greece over a separate maritime accord with Libya, which Athens says is illegal. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said he “will do whatever it takes” to protect the country’s sovereignty if Turkey begins drilling in waters Greece claims as its own. A similar dispute in 1996 sparked a military escalation that brought the two countries to the brink of war.