JOE BIDEN’S visit to Cyprus last week, the first by an American Vice President in 52 years, might not have resulted in any announcement about confidence-building measures on Famagusta or a breakthrough in Cyprus talks, but its significance should not be underestimated. We are not referring to the alleged upgrading of the pseudo-state which party leaders wasted their and our time complaining about.
Nor was the visit an attempt by Biden to curry favour with the Greek American lobby, with a view to winning the Democrats’ backing for the next presidential elections in the US, as some politicians and pundits simplistically claimed. Such an objective would have been achieved more successfully with a visit to Greece, from where the majority of the Greek lobby hails, and without the need for the VP to keep repeating that the US considered Cyprus strategic partner that could be a key player in Eastern Mediterranean region.
The real significance of the visit was that Biden meant what he said about Cyprus being “genuine strategic partner” of the US, that it “is emerging as key partner in a challenging region” and that it “is poised to become a key player in the Eastern Mediterranean.” But these are not just the high-sounding words of Biden, pandering to the Greek-American lobby. Secretary of State John Kerry also spoke about the strategic partnership when he met Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides in Washington less than two weeks ago; he is also scheduled to visit Cyprus later in the year. This is the position of the US administration, something made clear by Biden in Nicosia when he said: “I tell you President Obama and I believe that Cyprus is a key partner in a challenging region.”
Many people, quite understandably, found it difficult, if not impossible, to take seriously these words by the VP, wondering whether he was pulling our leg. Why on earth would the one superpower pay lip service to a partnership with a tiny and powerless state with a collapsed economy that requires financial assistance from abroad to stay afloat? It would appear that Cyprus has become central to the US plans for the region which are directly linked to hydrocarbons and the new Cold War between the West and Russia.
AKEL chief Andros Kyprianou may have been repeating his party’s traditional prejudices when he said the main concern of Biden’s visit was energy and the Ukraine crisis, but he was right. He was wrong, however, in saying that the VP was lobbying for more sanctions against Russia, as American plans seem to be much broader in scope and longer-term.
Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis offered a plausible explanation of US plans. “The Americans see Cyprus not only as an alternative supply source, but potentially an alternative corridor of energy supply.” During the talks in Nicosia on Thursday, the Americans discussed the need to reduce the EU’s energy dependence on its traditional supplier, said Lakkotrypis, obviously referring to Russia.
Natural gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean may be small by comparison to Russia’s but the US still feels that by providing the EU with an “alternative corridor of energy supply”, it could limit Moscow’s energy dominance in Europe. But for the US energy plans for the region to succeed there must be a settlement of the Cyprus problem so that the co-operation of all the countries in the region would be secured. The “alternative corridor” would not be possible without a settlement, hence the US interest in the peace talks and Biden’s assurance that “Cyprus can be an even stronger partner (of the US) if the next generation of Cypriots can grow up without the burden of conflict.”
When we put all this together, the real significance of the Vice President’s visit becomes apparent. Cyprus is at the centre of the US plans for the region which would be used to counter Russia’s domination of the energy sector. There has to be a settlement for Cyprus to be able to perform the regional role the Americans envisage. But before all this happens we would have to make a choice, which might not have been explicitly mentioned by Biden but is inevitable in the very near future. Cyprus will have to choose between the US and Russia because being strategic partners of both is impossible in the current world climate.
Biden’s visit, it could be said, was aimed at helping us make the right decision.