By Panayiotis Tilliros
Sensing the power vacuum in the Eastern Mediterranean Turkey rushed in to fill it by issuing two illegal and void Navtex on February 2 and March 10 in its efforts to disrupt the Republic of Cyprus’ (RoC) hydrocarbon programme.
Ankara met with no resistance and thus managed to prevent the Saipem 12000 drillship of the Italian company ENI from carrying out exploratory drilling for natural gas in offshore block 3 of the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Proactive measures were not taken in time, even though Turkey’s attitude was predictable.
Unfortunately the RoC has found itself alone again. The European Union, which has legitimate interests in the region, not limited to energy, responded with the expected worthless pious statements. From Britain, a guarantor of the Cyprus republic, nothing more could have been expected than the hypocritical keeping of an apparently equal distance in breach of its guarantee obligations in the face of Turkey’s aggression and the violation of Cyprus’ sovereign rights. In fact, British policy remains totally pro-Turkish within the framework of the ever-applied “divide and rule” doctrine, so that Cyprus can never have real independence or adopt policies against British interests.
The United States stressed the RoC’s right to develop its EEZ resources to be shared “equitably” between both communities. The term “equitably” is open to interpretation. Putin’s geostrategic objectives go beyond even those of the Soviet Union. In this case Moscow intends to acquire a sphere of influence in the Middle East and the Mediterranean (Syria, Egypt, Libya), weakening Nato’s southern flank. In addition Russia wishes to delay as long as possible the alternative “Fifth Corridor” natural gas supplies to Europe from the Eastern Mediterranean, enabling Europe to diversify away from Russia. The United Nations once again avoided their responsibility, washing their hands like Pontius Pilate, despite their very own Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos 1982) being trampled upon by Ankara, thus rewarding its violation of international law.
For Turkey, the invasion of Cyprus’ EEZ has remained a small, low-tension crisis without having to escalate it in order to achieve its goals. Once again it is confirmed that diplomacy without force has zero value or expected benefit. Notwithstanding, Ankara is not expected to dare harass Exxon-Mobil exploratory drilling in offshore block 10 in the second half of 2018.
Ankara’s warship/gunboat piratical act of obstructing Cyprus’ exploration for natural gas has the following strategic objectives:
- To stop the hydrocarbons exploration programme and further to prevent hydrocarbon exploitation.
- To claim a significant part of the republic’s EEZ in violation of the Unclos.
- To become a co-owner of the RoC’s energy wealth under the pretext of the Turkish Cypriots and blackmail the republic to change its energy policy in a direction serving Turkey’s goal of becoming an energy hub itself.
- To grab Cyprus’ energy wealth and to channel it through a pipeline to Turkey, imposing its own conditions and terms on prices and making Cyprus hostage, even though Cyprus has much better export options.
- To effectively compel the international oil companies involved in the RoC’s hydrocarbon exploration and production programme to negotiate with Turkey through a so-called hydrocarbons co-management committee with the Turkish Cypriots, utilising the 1960 constitution on an à la carte basis.
- To humiliate and draw to the negotiating table a fully weakened Cyprus president in order to impose upon him the terms for the solution of the Cyprus problem on the basis of essentially a condominium with Turkey via the Turkish Cypriots in a confederation wherein Ankara would monopolise Cyprus’ hydrocarbons. Ankara’s current intimidation is an omen of how much “freedom” the Cypriot people will have in the proposed confederation under Turkish suzerainty.
- To abolish the RoC with the proposed solution and transform it not just into a satellite within its own sphere of influence but into a colony. Already in the northern part of Cyprus, Turkey has installed hundreds of thousands of settlers as part of its progressive ethnic cleansing and eventually complete occupation of Cyprus, based on the Ismail Nihat Erim Report of 1956.
- To turn the Levantine Basin into a Turkish lake, using coercion tactics and to demonstrate at international level that it is the regional hegemon in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
- To prevent other great and regional powers from gaining access or a decisive role in the region’s energy resources except under its own terms and time framework.
The East Med gas constitutes a viable, secure and independent alternative corridor for European demand and diversification needs. It can be a ‘game changer’ for Europe at least to the extent that the stronger countries of the European Union decide that they will not allow Turkey to monopolise the situation.
Cyprus especially but also Greece have entered the global energy map. I have analysed in other articles that the East Med gas pipeline is not the best export option for Cypriot natural gas reserves. The optimal economic and geopolitical choice is the Natural Gas Liquefaction Terminal, which is now possible with the recent discovery of the Calypso reservoir (block 6), including the existing Aphrodite (block 12) reserves, but also certain future discoveries (block 10 etc.).
The energy reserves of Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean are the most important, if not the only, trump card available to the RoC to help play an important role in the EU and find a fairer solution to the Cyprus problem.
If Greece really wants to have a role in the Eastern Mediterranean and the new energy game by constructing the East Med gas pipeline, then it should dynamically assert its claims as Turkey does. International law is not a guarantee of protection for the weak. Only the country capable of taking the initiative and projecting hard power will be effective in controlling energy corridors and export options.
The current huge strategic deficits of Greece, its turkophobia and defeatism bring it only insults and repeated defeats across the board and not just in the Aegean Sea. The persistent policy of supposedly securing “peace” by retreating before all Turkish provocations and accepting from a position of military weakness unacceptable national compromises, like the 1996 Imia Agreement, simply turns Greece into a satellite through the process of finlandisation.
Hellenism and Greece now face a stark choice before the Turkish neo-ottoman threat: either pursue a realist militarised strategy geared towards reestablishing the balance of power the soonest possible and altering the just-defensive doctrine of deployment of forces; or follow the already-failed alternative liberal logic (fallacy in this case) that seeks to promote long-term peace through closer economic, social and political ties and involves relinquishing all national assets and capitulating to Turkey.
With its constant inaction, Greece has been caught in the Thucydidean trap of a rising Turkey. The continuous erosion of the balance of power has reached a point that will eventually make war inevitable. War does not necessarily mean catastrophe provided there is preparation and determination.
It has not yet been comprehended that in the ambiguous but realistic Orwellian world of the political and international chessboard peace can mean war and war peace.
Panayiotis Tilliros (MSc from LSE) is an economist and international relations analyst