Cyprus’ shift away from the West was confirmed in the most official way in President Anastasiades’ swearing in address before the House on Wednesday, which was in stark contrast to the one he gave in 2013. Five years ago he stressed that his objective was for Cyprus to take its place in the West, but he appears to have abandoned this objective halfway through his term. On Wednesday there was no mention of a Western orientation, his only concession being that Cyprus would participate in the formulation of the EU’s common foreign policy.
What a difference this was to 2013, when Anastasiades signalled the end of the Christofias presidency’s antagonism to the West and servility to Moscow, which had completely undermined Cyprus’ standing in the EU. Five years ago Anastasiades declared he would make Cyprus a trustworthy member of the EU that would participate as a reliable member in all the policies of the Union. He would also apply for admission into the Partnership for Peace and try to build relations with NATO, which Cyprus might join if there was party support for such a move.
He never applied for membership of the Partnership for Peace and on Wednesday he outlined foreign policy objectives that were a throwback to the Christofias years. Four foreign policy axes were announced: the new government would participate in the EU’s formulation of a common foreign policy, it would strengthen ties with the Gulf states, it would try to formally link the Mediterranean’s EU member states with neighbouring countries and deepen relations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
The last objective is one those nebulous policies that sound good but do not stand up to rational scrutiny. The five permanent members of the Security Council are five disparate states with conflicting interests and radically different objectives that are frequently at odds with each other. Anastasiades explained that by deepening relations with the permanent five he would pursue the “economic diplomacy with the important players of the international system so that through the corresponding foreign policy we would secure the uninterrupted implementation of our energy planning.”
The facts of the last few weeks exposed the president’s plans as wishful thinking. The implementation of our energy plans were interrupted by Turkey’s navy and four of the permanent members of the Security Council issued announcements expressing mild disapproval of these actions and informing us that the way forward was through the solution of the Cyprus problem. Of the four France took a slightly stronger stand, but to little effect. Meanwhile, it would be interesting to know what the president actually meant by “economic diplomacy”.
There was also a sub-text to the intention to deepen relations with the permanent five. It was a coded way of saying he would carry on strengthening Cyprus’ relations with the Russian Federation and moving the country further away from the West during his second term, a process that started more than a year ago once he decided a Cyprus settlement was not on his agenda. Nicosia-Moscow relations have become stronger since then – even Russian websites stopped writing critical articles about Anastasiades – culminating in last October’s visit to Moscow where he had a long meeting with President Putin and a host of co-operation agreements were signed.
Even his choice of foreign minister reflects the government’s new orientation, Nicos Christodoulides being a product of our foreign ministry’s anti-West, anti-settlement tendency. Relations with Moscow seem to warm up when our government wants to abandon settlement talks. In 2004, before the referendum, foreign minister George Iacovou was sent to Moscow to secure Russian support for President Papadopoulos’ stance and Anastasiades appears to have followed the same approach in anticipation of the collapse of the international conference on Cyprus.
It is the president’s prerogative to formulate foreign policy and choose the direction and orientation of the country. The Anastasiades government is entitled to turn its back on the West and move closer to Moscow if it believes this serves the national interest. That his foreign policy will be the same as that of the Christofias government, which he claimed he would move away from when he was elected in 2013, is another matter. He could describe it, like Christofias, as a “multi-dimensional foreign policy,” which was code for putting relations with Moscow above relations with our EU partners.
We can only express the hope that Cyprus will not become the untrustworthy member of EU of the Christofias years while Anastasiades and Christodoulides play their foreign policy games.