By Demetris Papadopoulos
FOR the first time in the history of the Cyprus talks two leaders are negotiating in good faith. From what has been reported, there have been significant convergences in vital areas but difficult obstacles still remain, mainly security and guarantees. The question is whether these two are important enough to sacrifice a settlement or whether there is room for compromise.
Before attempting to answer this question we should place in context the public debate on security and guarantees that is currently taking place. There have been talks since 1974, but this is the first time guarantees have been elevated to a ‘red-line’ issue, with the Greek Cypriots insisting they be scrapped and the Turkish Cypriots insisting they remain.
All settlement proposals or frameworks submitted until now included provisions to continue the 1960s guarantees. In the most recent example of the Annan plan, Tassos Papadopoloulos had not even raised the prospect of their review, let alone scrapping them. And in his TV address to the people, when he demolished all aspects of the plan, he made not a single mention of the guarantees.
Meanwhile, the Turkish guarantee is demanded by the overwhelming majority of Turkish Cypriots citing the 1963-74 period. For the Greek Cypriots it rouses feelings of insecurity because it is linked to the tragic events of 1974; the issue is primarily psychological rather than of substance. No war in the world ever started or finished based on agreements on paper – prevailing conditions determined these things.
If the Cyprus problem is to be solved, some form of guarantees, which would satisfy the security concerns of one side without being considered a threat to the other, is inevitable. Nato guarantees could have been a solution. But when the idea was raised in the early stages of the talks, we received an ultimatum from Moscow, delivered by Akel chief Andros Kyprianou.
“Russia has views and what concerns it is that the settlement will not affect the vital interests of the Russian Federation. And to be better understood, if there is an attempt to have guarantees by Nato I consider there will be a negative stance on the part of Russia,” he said after returning from a trip to Russia.
Any with a basic understanding of international politics will know the “vital interests of the Russian Federation” in the eastern Mediterranean. There are the continued difficult relations between Turkey and the EU and Nato because of Cyprus, the drawing of Turkey away from the West’s sphere of influence and preventing the exploitation of the natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean so that Turkey remains energy dependent on Russia. The interests of the Russian Federation are best served by the maintenance of the status quo in Cyprus and are threatened by its demise. And the most reliable guarantor of the status quo in Cyprus is the Turkish occupation army. This was the reason the Soviet Union welcomed the Turkish invasion in 1974 and why it has never called for the withdrawal of the Turkish troops since.
Akel, without whose co-operation there can be no settlement, firmly shut down the option of Nato guarantees, because this did not suit Russia, but it never explained why this would be such a bad thing for Cyprus – worse than the continued occupation. If we had to choose between the Turkish army and Nato and, ultimately, between a settlement and the status quo what would we go for? Would we choose the Turkish army and the status quo because this would not affect the “vital interests of the Russian Federation”? In the end who is standing up for the interests of the Cypriots in this country?
Russia’s problem is not Nato, but the settlement of the Cyprus problem. Russia would not be content with just excluding Nato, only with preventing a settlement. Russia’s much-touted “positions of principle” on the Cyprus issue exist only as far as they preserve the status quo. Whenever there was a prospect of a settlement, be it the American-Canadian plan of 1978 or the Annan plan in 2004, Moscow intervened, using Akel as its proxy, and protected its vital interests.
The after-effects of 2004, seen in the ensuing decade, gave rise to the collaboration between the Left and extreme Right which resulted in unrelenting hostility towards the West and Europe, which was in stark contrast to the subservient approach to Russia, even when President Putin showed his contempt for Cyprus with his public pronouncements.
After the election of Mustafa Akinci in 2015 the talks took a positive turn. That summer we saw the first positive steps which encouraged expectations of a successful outcome. The qualitative difference was Akel’s decision to fully support the peace process, despite Moscow’s admonitions. This was when, the ambassador of the Russian Federation Stanislav Osadchiy after a meeting with Citizens’ Alliance chief Giorgos Lillikas, raised the issue of guarantees out of nowhere. Osadchiy’s view was praised by all the small parties and endorsed by the friendly media. The ambassador brought the issue up at every opportunity and it found its way into the statements of the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman and was raised at the highest level by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Is it acceptable to have guarantees imposed on a member-state of the EU? The answer, undoubtedly, is ‘no’. And if there are guarantees they would be a watered down version of those imposed in 1960. Rejecting a settlement because we did not get exactly what we wanted on the guarantees, would mean we would be left with a worse option – the 1960 guarantees – which, based on the Accession Treaty, ratified unanimously by our House of Representatives, constitute primary law of the EU. In addition to this, rejecting a solution leaves us stuck with thousands of Turkish troops on the island indefinitely, the uncontrolled inflow of mainland Turks and the security fear of having a border with Turkey; and we would not be able to extract natural gas from our EEZ. Everyone in Cyprus would lose out for the sake of safeguarding Russia’s vital interests.
The most effective and reliable treaty of guarantee would be to create the conditions for prosperity and co-existence, not only with the Turkish Cypriots but with Turkey as well. A settlement is the only way of bringing together all countries of the eastern Mediterranean to cooperate on energy, which would pave the way for investments worth billions in the region. It is by having common interests with powerful states like the US, Italy, France and Israel that our security would be guaranteed.
And this is no wishful thinking or idle talk. There are big energy plans for the region that would be implemented after a settlement. Based on what the State Department’s special envoy for energy affairs, Amos Hochstein, told US Congress last month, this was an opportunity for states that comes up once in a 100 years.
We either seize it and change the future of our country and the region, or carry on playing our silly games, serving the “vital interests” of the Russian Federation, like the biggest mugs in world history.