French presence in East Med entrenched

The latest visit of the Auvergne warship to Larnaca, the 12th in the last three years, is seen as a powerful indication of France’s permanent presence in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as of its support for Nicosia.

The visit by the Aquitaine-class frigate with its 150-strong crew, which will be deployed there until January to gather intelligence, has been widely covered by local and international media, with Captain Paul Merveilleux de Vignaux saying it will “show how the respect of international law and especially freedom of navigation matters” to France.

“This deployment underlines how important France considers this part of the Mediterranean Sea,” de Vignaux told reporters at the port of Larnaca. It also shows, he stressed, the “willingness” of Paris “to contribute to the stabilisation of this strategic area.” 

The French captain also said that “there can’t be efficient and sustainable naval operations without support and Cyprus is the centrepiece of it.”

The frequency of the presence of the French Navy and Air Force in Cyprus is also seen as a solid indication of Paris’ commitment to supporting Cypriot sovereignty, especially at a time when it is disputed by Ankara. 

Last May, the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier had docked in Larnaca, while in 2020 the same ship had a prominent role in extensive exercises within Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In addition to the port of Larnaca, France has also been allowed to park French Rafale fighters at Paphos Air Base. 

In August 2020, while the crisis with Turkey’s Oruç Reis research vessel was unfolding further west, two French Rafale fighters landed at Paphos, as part of the implementation of the bilateral defence cooperation agreement signed a few weeks earlier between Paris and Nicosia.

France’s Total and Italian ENI will start drilling in part of the Cyprus EEZ’s Block 6 in the first half of 2022 amid expectations Ankara will try preempt the move.

(A version of this article was originally published by the Kathimerini newspaper and is reproduced by permission.)

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