Will the hot winds over Cyprus cool down?

Will the hot winds over Cyprus cool down?

“Anastasiades took the other side by surprise. The negotiations had progressed to a certain point, but with a sudden shift, he changed the agenda.”

The Greek academic with whom I had that interesting conversation last week in Istanbul was in a good position to know what is going on in both Nicosia and Athens. For many years his advice has been sought by political leaders on policies related to the two countries and consequently to Turkey.

It was interesting to hear from him that the Greek Cypriots are now fully confident that they have “got it right” by focusing their policy on their right of exploration of resources in their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), confident that their move, together with Greece’s toward Egypt, was well thought-out and over-confident that they could create a new geostrategic balance in the region. Naturally, both Nicosia and Athens consider the presence of the Barbaros inside the Cypriot EEZ enough of a “provocative” action to justify their stance.

My academic friend also assured me that the Greek Cypriot leader is “determined to go until the end,” in building up further his country’s relations with Israel and that this will be apparent during Nicos Anastasiades’ visit to Israel on Dec. 2, when he will have extensive talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (According to Greek sources, the original plan was that Netanyahu was going to meet Anastasiades in Nicosia, but he asked for the meeting to take place in Tel Aviv due to security reasons).

Ankara’s stance is known and has been repeated as recently as last weekend by Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arınç during the celebrations for the 31st anniversary of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.” They do not want the Greek Cypriots to act as the sole owners of the island’s natural resources, and they want them to return to the negotiating table under the auspices of the United Nations. They also want to “sell” Turkey as a cheaper alternative route to Europe rather than Egypt for natural gas now that Europeans are turning their back on Russia. And they do not seem in any way willing to remove the Turkish forces from the north before a settlement. The visit by U.S. Vice President John Biden this week will provide a suitable opportunity for the Turkish side to put forward its position.

So far, interestingly enough, Ankara has not raised the temperature in its rhetoric, unlike the other side, where both Nicosia and Athens, who are steadily raising their anti-Turkish tone, with the latest example that of Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos who told a Greek weekly that “we are on alert to avert the possibility of a hot incident with Turkey.”

It looks like December might be a diplomatically hot month for Greece-Cyprus-Turkey relations.
The visit of Anastasiades to Israel will be followed almost immediately by the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to Athens on Dec. 5-6. If Davutoğlu’s team indicates that they want to de-escalate tension, will there perhaps be new ideas leading to cooperation rather than the isolation of each party behind their own lines?

Needless to say, the only answer that the Greek academic really wanted to hear from me was “Could Erdoğan go to war for Cyprus?” This, he told me, is what is on everybody’s mind on the Greek side. To that, I could not give him a definite answer.