By Demetris Papadopoulos
TURKEY USED the occasion of ENI/Kogas starting its exploratory drilling to emphasise its opposition by sending warships nearby and reserving a sea area between Cyprus and the block where the consortium is operating.
At the moment, Turkey is engaged in horse trading with the West over the conditions and benefits of its potential involvement in land operations against ISIS. It is possible that Turkey wants to include the Cyprus issue in this exchange, as well as its interest in exploiting hydrocarbons in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
No matter the motives, Turkey has created tension at a time when the West is depending on it to tackle ISIS. Current developments in the Middle East are perhaps the most serious since the end of WWII and Turkey’s role in the management of this crisis is of vital importance for western planning.
This is a reality that no one can ignore.
At the same time there is heightened interest, especially from the United States, for a settlement in Cyprus. A settlement would necessarily be compatible with wider geopolitical developments.
For the first time in its history, the Republic of Cyprus has acquired a special importance because it can help stabilise the most volatile region in the world at a time when everything is fluid and unpredictable.
Cyprus can gain a value that is greater than its size on one basic condition: it must resolve its problems with Turkey. Only then will it capitalise on its geographical position and utilise its energy reserves.
This is the big picture. It is a big game and Cyprus is too small to play it on its own. Things are not easy. Turkey is a very difficult negotiator, but Cyprus is forced by geography to sort out its issues with its neighbour or suffer in its shadow for years.
To overcome this challenge, Cyprus must talk with potential allies, trust them, and take to the international political stage without wavering.
Russia is not among the island’s potential allies in this fight for geopolitical dominance. Russia is on the other side. It has always been on the other side. It is through this big picture that we must view the reactions of the US, Britain and Russia to the Turkish provocation.
In its statement this week, Britain unequivocally recognised Cyprus’ sovereign rights inside the EEZ; it was in favour of using the reserves to the benefit of all communities, and pointed the finger at Turkey as the being at fault for the tension.
It did however acknowledge Turkey’s efforts towards a solution. The US statement was along similar lines though milder. They reiterated their fixed position on sovereign rights and the need for sharing the proceeds fairly and equally. They criticised Turkey mildly, without naming it, for causing tension.
In many ways, the West supports the exploration but points out that exploitation would be difficult unless an understanding is reached with the other side. It encourages the use of hydrocarbons as an incentive for a settlement because all sides would benefit.
There is no greater hope for a better future in this country than the framework set out by the West.
In contrast, Russia wants this endeavour to fail for its own geopolitical and economic reasons. Its first reaction said “unilateral actions and show of force are unacceptable and worsen the situation, not only as regards Cypriot affairs, but also the Eastern Mediterranean region.”
For anyone with a basic understanding of diplomatic speak, the allusion to “unilateral actions” refers to the Republic because this phrase is included in all Turkish announcements on the matter. The “show of force” clearly refers to Turkey.
Cypriot media and the political system, which treated the West’s rational position with cold indifference, celebrated over Russia’s announcement.
Phileleftheros newspaper, which represents the Cypriot establishment, wrote under the banner headline “Moscow told them off,” saying that Russia took a crystal clear position. If Russia had wanted to take a clear position it would have named Turkey.
The Russian stance was clarified after the Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said: “We believe that the parties concerned should refrain from steps, including in respect to the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus, which could hurt the talks.” The Russian ministry effectively sided with Turkey since without exploration there would not be any activity in the EEZ.
Despite this, House President Yiannakis Omirou warmly welcomed the Russian announcement. “Once more, Russia takes Cyprus’ side, unequivocally, with fervour and unreserved condemnation of Turkey’s behaviour.”
AKEL also welcomed the Russian reaction. “In an especially critical time for Cyprus, the Russian federation once more is a firm and consistent supporter of the rights of the Cypriot people.”
Such flattery, bordering on servility – against the interests of our country no less – would normally only be seen in the Warsaw Pact regimes of the past.
The signal for the expressions of gratitude had been given by Phileleftheros last Friday, which wrote that the Russian embassy had made a demarche to Turkey.
Based on official statements, but also Russia’s fixed positions on the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the EEZ, it is unlikely that such a demarche was made.
And if the Russian embassy did say this, then it is deliberately trying to push the government into actions that will throw Cyprus into the abyss, as in other times in the past.
The current administration chose to turn to the West, a courageous and correct decision. It should persist in this, but should also trust its allies and keep the bigger picture in mind, not the smaller one, as dictated by the obsolete political system.
Of course the change in foreign policy bothers Russia, which has been using Cyprus to destabilise the West since 1960. Russia will exploit every opportunity to prevent Cyprus from becoming a factor of stability and from exploiting its energy reserves. It also wants to keep Turkey dependent on its energy.
Russia supplies Turkey with $2.0 billion worth of energy per month. A crisis would serve Moscow and it is in its interests for the gas to remain 7,000 metres under the sea.
Russia knows its interests, and it seems it has the mechanisms to have others defend them in Cyprus. It is the responsibility of the government to weigh, and defend the country’s interests, and not to give in to Russian blackmail.