*This editorial was originally published in Greek in Hellas Journal
by Michail Ignatiou
The international community, with the United States in the lead, is taking action to persuade Turkey to stop its “war games” in the East Mediterranean and its unprecedented bullying of the Republic of Cyprus.
According to information from the newspaper Ethnos on Sunday, there have already been great efforts expended in this direction, but they have been unsuccessful so far. Turkey continues to argue that by drilling for hydrocarbons within the boundaries of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), they are protecting the rights of Turkish-Cypriots, a minority Ankara is brazenly exploiting to push its interests.
The situation can only be described as difficult because Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is still unaffected by the fact that European Union sanctions are “a very likely development,” (although there is still no consensus for further sanctions within the EU).
In briefing the leaders of EU member states in Romania, President of the Republic of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiadis spoke about the absolute need for EU partners to rise to the occasion and stand by Cyprus. “You cannot,” an angry Anastasiades said, “impose sanctions on non-EU countries, and close your eyes in the case of Cyprus.”
Citing a diplomatic source, Ethnos on Sunday reported that the Cypriot president “did not hide his anger” at the briefing, as he believes the stance taken by some of the leaders of EU member states is inconceivable.
Supported by the Greek government, the Cypriot side has contacted the administrations of certain EU countries which could ask the government in Ankara to act in a more reasonable way. According to the source, Cyprus’ Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulidis made an urgent trip to Paris, where he met with officials from the US State Department, as well as the foreign ministers of Germany, Russia and other countries.
According to the same source, State Department Assistant Secretary Philip Reeker, who has replaced Wes Mitchell, was pleased when he was told that there have been from other countries on all levels.
The U.S. stands firmly by its position that Turkey should stop all activity in Cyprus’ EEZ and has expressed its disagreement with the provocations of the Turkish occupying forces. The position of the US is that its interests are still affected despite the fact that there has been no actual interference during the drilling of American giant Exxon Mobil inside Block 10 of Cyprus’ EEZ.
The United States has informed Ankara that it does not want problems in the eastern Mediterranean, an area to which it has returned and in which it seems to be claiming to have the dominant role.
According to analysts, after settling disputes with Russia in regard to the Balkan region, now the Americans want to do the same in the eastern Mediterranean. Besides Israel, the US is now including Cyprus, Egypt and Greece in their geostrategic planning in the area. It has been noted that Cyprus could serve again as one of the most important army bases in the world.
The Americans have communicated with Ankara both on a diplomatic and military level and expressed their “deep concern” over Turkey’s stated intentions to drill in an area that the Republic of Cyprus considers part of its EEZ.
Referring to Turkish threats to drill in the Cypriot EEZ, the State Department spokesperson noted that “This step is very provocative, and raises the risk of increasing tension in the region.” Washington has unequivocally called on Turkish authorities “to stop these activities.” It also advised all parties “to act with restraint.”
Reportedly, there was a scheduled telephone conversation on Saturday which took place between the US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. They discussed the issue of the purchase of Russian missile system S-400 by Turkey, which the US desires Turkey to cancel, and the security zone in Syria.
Nicosia and Athens clearly hope that Pompeo will also discuss US concerns over Turkey’s provocations in the Cypriot EEZ. We contacted the State Department, but there has been no confirmation so far that the telephone conversation took place. The telephone call was announced by Cavusoglu.
At the time of writing, Turkey has not responded to the appeals of the Americans, the French and the Germans, although it must be admitted that Germany was not very clear when speaking to Anastasiades. It is known that the Germans have their own trade interests — which will be affected if Cyprus demands sanctions from the EU.
The way in which Anastasiades’ appeal was received proves that Europeans tend to limit themselves to tough verbal statements, and in reality they avoid any kind of real action.
Nicosia rejects the “national interests” pretext, and Anastasiades — without actually mentioning Venezuela and Ukraine — said in his speech that in other cases where “national interests” were infringed, there were sanctions imposed, while in the case of Cyprus there are only excuses.
Cyprus’ foreign minister will visit Brussels on Monday for the ministers’ meeting and will brief his counterparts there on the situation Turkey has created regarding the Republic of Cyprus, which Anastasiades has likened to a “second invasion.”
According to current information, Cyprus’ FM Christodoulidis will announce that the Republic of Cyprus will proceed with sanctions against Turkish oil company TRAO and its executives. He will also ask his counterparts and all member states to respect their decision and implement it.
Nicosia is also considering other actions which Christodoulidis will announce. It should be noted that following conversations between the Cypriot minister and Russian officials, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov communicated with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The latter seems to have some kind of a plan to bundle together all the open issues between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. Ankara apparently desires to link together its demands in the Aegean, namely the energy and the Cyprus unification issues.
Both Nicosia and Athens are expected to reject the idea, but according to information some European countries are considering this to be a good basis to start a conversation. In this way, Turkey will benefit on all three issues, while Athens and Nicosia will not, since they must suffer major losses.
Israel is expected to reject the idea as well, as it has obvious strategic interests in the region. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly sent a message to the President of Cyprus and the Prime Minister of Greece saying that Turkey should not be allowed to enter the EU “through the back door,” meaning through a bad solution to the Cyprus problem.
Nicosia does not feel alone in regard to the Turkish provocations, but its concern is Turkey’s tendency to create a fait accompli. Cyprus’ administration has expressed the concern that if the drilling is not stopped and Turkey is not convinced to retreat, the island will be in a very unpleasant situation, because it is known that when Turkey invades a place, it stays there.
In addition to the case of the occupied part of Cyprus, there are the examples of Syria and Iraq, where Turkish forces invaded and have remained in place.
Nevertheless, Nicosia sees US intervention as a positive development. Cyprus also welcomes the assurances made by French President Emmanuel Macron to Anastasiades that the interests of his country are identical to those of Cyprus. The French company TOTAL is preparing for its own drilling, and according to available information, its drilling equipment will be protected by French frigates.
It is also worth noting that American warships are currently in the area in which they have already received a mandate to protect the interests of Exxon Mobil.
Nicosia trusts that foreign powers will not leave Cyprus on its own when all the diplomatic means it has at its disposal are exhausted.