Miscalculating the capabilities, resources or probable course of action of their opponents can pose serious difficulties for a political leader. While trying to make the best use of an opportunity, a political leader may become cornered by their mistakes or failed undertakings.
When he walked out of the Cyprus talks, Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades expected European allies of the “Republic of Cyprus” would rush to his aid and his “best friend,” American Vice President Joe Biden, would likewise rush to squeeze the Turks like a lemon. Anastasiades believed by walking out of the talks, he would corner Turkey and force it to withdraw its Barbaros seismological ship and the accompanying navy boats which would, essentially, mean Turkish recognition of Greek Cypriot’s sovereignty. If Turkey withdrew its ships, it would not only be the start of a Turkish withdrawal from Cyprus, but also ignite a process that would cut off Turkey’s access to international waters in the Aegean and elsewhere.
Alas, Anastasiades woke up from this utopian dream to the bitter reality dictated by a political situation that he could not bend, even with the help of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The aim of his withdrawal from the talks was primarily to further isolate Turkey from the international arena, but his secondary objective was to use the crisis to overcome domestic hurdles and silence the opposition and dissenters. The job would appear to be easy, as the autocratic style of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was already tarnishing Turkey’s image. It would not be difficult to make the world believe that by sending the Bararos ship and navy boats to the disputed waters off the island, Turkey violated “Cypriot” sovereignty. On the other hand, as his political mentor the late Glafcos Clerides had done in the 1997 crisis that erupted over plans to deploy Russian-made S-300 missiles and radar systems on the island, by creating a new “national topic” to rally around, Anastasiades could distract attention from his serious domestic policy failures.
Doctors had warned him many times over the last year. His persistent high blood pressure – so serious that during the last EU Council summit he was hospitalized – and alcoholism were making it extremely difficult to make a decision about when or if a needed heart surgery could be performed. His health situation was so frail that even Israeli doctors who examined him reportedly said he must undergo heart surgery and the situation was “extremely urgent,” but because of the damage done to his body by alcoholism, there was a possibility he would not survive the operation. Sources with political insight have been persistently stressing that Anastasiades might not finish 2015 as president of Cyprus regardless of his health.
Anastasiades not only failed to corner Turkey with his decision to withdrawal from the talks, but he also failed to convince the world that the talks had collapsed because of an “aggressive and provocative Turkish violation of Cypriot sovereignty.” The Americans told Anastasiades that he should find a way to return to the talks, while the UN secretary-general’s special envoy Espen Barth Eide did not beat around the bush. He said directly to the faces of Greek Cypriots that the only way out of the current crisis would be to either accept a moratorium and suspend the natural gas business until after a settlement, or to accept the creation of an ad-hoc committee which would have the power to operate the resources and plan the use of the natural gas revenues.
Furthermore, dashing Greek Cypriot’s expectations of receiving a pat in the back, Biden engaged in an effort to mend fences with Ankara, as is necessary for American global interests. After all, talking at the closing session of the sixth annual Atlantic Council Energy & Economic Summit, did not Biden say “Energy can and should serve as a tool for cooperation, for stability, for security and prosperity?” Was he just trying to appease Prime Minister Ahmet Davudoğlu standing next to him, or was he sending a message to the Greek Cypriot side that they should perhaps think over their manners and actions in deference to the “bigger picture?”
Anastasiades has hardly managed to take control of his domestic situation and rather than holding Turkey responsible for the collapse of the talks, fingers started to point towards him as the “real problem maker.”