THE WAR of words and grandstanding over hydrocarbons has become the only political show in town in the last few weeks. Politicians and media on both sides of the dividing line as well as in Turkey and, to a much lesser extent, in Greece have been publicly squabbling ever since Turkey stopped the ENI drillship from reaching its drilling target in Block 3. The drillship eventually left the area and headed to Morocco but the public rhetoric, instead of dying down has intensified.
On Tuesday, the situation got out of hand after a report in Russian and Turkish media claiming that the presence of the US Sixth Fleet in the eastern Mediterranean was linked to the expected arrival of ExxonMobil vessels in the Cypriot EEZ. It takes a big leap of the imagination to believe the US Navy has nothing better to do than offer protection to private US companies, planning preliminary gas explorations, and become involved in what is regarded a trivial dispute by anyone outside this region. Yet this became a big story, presented by the media as a victory for the government, which saw no need to set the record straight.
This happened 24 hours later, when the new foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides told newsmen, “there is absolutely no need to create a backstory which, on the one hand, does not correspond to reality, and on the other attempts to create a new state of affairs.” When there was something to announce, the government would do so he said. Why had it taken so long for the government to make it clear that the US fleet was taking part in an exercise with Israel and that all the media speculation was nonsense?
Inevitably the Turkish media also played up the story, one columnist claiming that if there was no settlement “there is a possibility of Turkish warships going head-to-head with US warships,” later in the year. Statements by President Erdogan’s spokesman and the Turkish PM also followed, repeating they would not welcome “unilateral activities. Emboldened by Turkey’s stance, the north’s ‘foreign minister’ Kudret Ozersay threatened that the north would start drilling if the Cyprus government did not agree to talks on hydrocarbons.
Nothing will be solved with public rhetoric. On the contrary, it could create other problems for us by presenting a picture of instability in the region that could affect tourism. Reports about warships, trouble in the eastern Mediterranean and the US Sixth Fleet becoming involved in disputes in Cyprus waters, might be utter nonsense but if it continues, it could have a negative effect on tourism, which has been thriving because Cyprus has been much more peaceful and stable than other destinations in the Mediterranean.
It is not enough for the government to reprimand media for stories presenting a crisis situation, as the foreign minister had done. It should ensure this nonsense is not turned into news by dealing with wild allegations promptly and avoiding engaging in belligerent rhetoric which feeds rumours.