Greek Cyprus has begun to pay for its failure at the peace talks
Do Greek Cypriot ruling elites think Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan left the EU summit in Varna with a deep sense of intimidation that would be enough to keep him from sending warships to the island’s waters?
If they do, they are delusional, just as they might be when they make their analyses on the new international and regional realities on the ground.
It might be hard to digest, but they should have listed to Harry Tzimitras, when he said the United States and the EU have zero leverage on Turkey. The director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) Cyprus Center did not chew his words when he spoke at a panel for the Bosphorus Energy Club on March 27.
“The U.S. has mentally checked out of the East Mediterranean,” said Tzimitras. This, coupled with the fact that the Department of State has become so understaffed, Washington can no longer play the role of “fire extinguisher” that it has been expected to play during times of escalating tension.
The events of the last few weeks have shown that Greek Cypriots cannot count on the EU or on individual EU members either. Turkish warships prevented the drillship of Italian oil giant ENI from reaching its drilling target off the shores of Cyprus. This did not cause a crisis in Turkish-Italian relations nor was the Turkey-EU summit postponed due to Turkey’s act, which was only met with a statement of condemnation from Brussels. Meanwhile, the United Nations Secretary-General and foreign governments all spoke of the need to reach a settlement so the natural gas dispute would be resolved.
The Greek Cypriot administration had little consolation from the fact that the gas dispute was brought up at the Varna summit, as there was nothing suggesting that Turkey would not take the same action if ENI were to test the waters again, which it will not, as the company’s CEO has made clear in his statement.
Bringing the issue to the agenda of the Varna summit was the least the EU could do. After all, what good is the EU if it does not support a member against “aggression” from a non-member?
However, this is the gist of Greek Cyprus’s delusion. Previous Greek Cypriot administrations have failed to turn EU membership to their advantage by securing a settlement in their favor. Thanks to the Loizidou case in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Greek Cypriots were supposed to regain their properties and the EU’s pressure on Turkey was to make the latter accept a compromised solution.
Nevertheless, the Greek Cypriot administrations strategy to use the EU’s leverage as a stick rather than a carrot did not pay off.
The same approach had been adopted with the gas discoveries in the East Mediterranean. Instead of turning the energy issue to an incentive for settlement, Greek Cyprus chose to use it as additional leverage against Turkey.
Greek Cyprus thought Western powers with giant energy companies would stay by their side when they were challenged by Turkey over gas exploitation, especially at a time when Ankara’s relations were in a deteriorated state with the U.S., the EU, Israel and Egypt. The latter two were also stakeholders in the regional energy issues. However, Greek Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades’ strategy of testing Turkey’s resolve backfired.
In the end, politics have high jacked energy issues. Not only have energy resources not served as an additional incentive, Greek Cyprus has ended up in a situation where it cannot even engage in exploitation activities.
This is the result of a zero sum game in politics.
Anastasiades’ strategy of separating the two issues has failed, and without a settlement of the Cyprus problem, his energy plans will go nowhere.
The Greek Cypriot administrations have never paid for their failures in peace talks. On the contrary, they were awarded with EU membership when they turned down the U.N. brokered plan for which they held a referendum.
When the latest settlement talks in Crans-Montana failed again, Anastasiades probably thought he could walk away without having to pay for it. But it looks like this time there will be consequences for failing to cease the window of opportunity.