By Christos P. Panayiotides
IT IS truly difficult to understand why Greek Cypriots insist on placing their bets on the UN, despite the fact that their efforts, over a period of 62 years, have tragically failed to achieve much. The first appeal before the UN, aiming at securing the right of “self-determination”, was filed, on the insistence of Archbishop Makarios, in August of 1954.
The events of the past 62 years have led Cyprus from bad to worse, demonstrating – in no uncertain terms – the ineffectiveness of the organisation to promote the enforcement of international law and justice. What is strange about this experience is that, despite the consistent failures of the past 62 years, at least a segment of the Greek Cypriots insists on seeking the solution of the problems of Cyprus through the United Nations.
A typical expression of this attitude is the insistence of the rejectionist parties on the Greek Cypriot side to get the five permanent members of the Security Council of the UN (US, UK, France, Russia and China) to attend the international meeting on Cyprus, which is scheduled for January 12. They exercise maximum pressure in this direction, even though the EU will be in attendance and despite the visible risk of jeopardising the whole process with such an attitude.
One logical explanation of this rather strange behaviour is the influence that Russia appears to have on the rejectionist parties. Since the Turkish invasion, in 1974, the position of Russia on the Cyprus problem has been consistent, comprising a systematic effort to undermine the prospects of arriving at a solution by peaceful means. Russia’s position is, of course, understandable and justified from its own perspective, given that the peaceful resolution of the Cyprus problem would probably adversely affect its own interests.
One of the basic problems associated with the Annan Plan was the inadequate resolution of the issue of securing its proper implementation. The then Secretary-General of the UN recognised this problem and tried to resolve it by means of a Security Council resolution. The proposed resolution was rejected because Russia exercised its veto right against all the remaining 14 members of the Council, who voted in favour. The Representative of Russia justified the approach taken as a “technical veto” “aiming at ensuring that the will of the people of Cyprus would not be affected”.
The negative stand of Russia against the prospect of a peaceful solution has manifested itself since then on repeated occasions, reaching its climax in the past couple of months through the efforts of the Russian ambassador to Cyprus, who has been regularly appearing in the media, arguing against the hasty adoption of a solution. One such appearance was on the CyBC programme “First Newsreel”, where he unambiguously declared that there was no reason for the Greek Cypriots to rush to strike a deal, while adding that Russia has always supported and will continue to support “a just, viable and functional solution, which would be acceptable to the two communities”. Statements of this type, although received with enthusiasm and gratitude by a segment of the Greek Cypriot community, simply mean that Russia is against any peaceful solution of the Cyprus problem given that “a just, viable and functional solution” that is conceived by the two communities as such, does not exist and it will never be found.
What are the Russian interests inducing Moscow to adopt a negative stand towards any peaceful solution to the Cyprus problem?
To start with, the Cyprus problem is – no doubt – a thorn in the relationship between two member states of the Nato alliance: Greece and Turkey. A peaceful resolution of the problem would definitely lead to the strengthening of Nato.
Russia appears to be the victor in the Syrian civil war. In this conflict, 350,000 people (amongst them many innocent women and children) have lost their lives, some millions have become refugees, entire cities have been levelled to the ground. It is very natural for the winner of this conflict to wish to expand its sphere of influence to neighbouring Cyprus. A peaceful resolution of the Cyprus problem would halt such plans. By contrast a non-solution would give Russia a plethora of opportunities to get more extensively involved in this power-game.
A peaceful resolution would also result in enhancing the prospects of commercially exploiting Cyprus’ energy reserves. This would substantially reduce the dependence of the EU as well as that of Turkey on Russian gas. In other words, the entry of Cyprus and of other neighbouring countries in the energy game will clearly dent the competitive position of Russia in this area.
The failure of this effort would generate numerous opportunities, which appropriately exploited, would allow Russia to consolidate its position in the Eastern Mediterranean.
That the rejectionist parties of Cyprus are against any peaceful settlement of the Cyprus problem is, now, beyond question. The only solution acceptable to the rejectionist parties would be a united Cyprus governed by the Greek Cypriots. This is not acceptable to Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots. By extension, the rejectionist parties are against the resolution of the Cyprus conflict by peaceful means and, in this sense, they are aligned with the Russian position. It is notable that the joint conference, which was held by the rejectionist parties on 20 December 2016, “was attended by the ambassador of Russia in Cyprus, “who was warmly applauded by the audience” according to Simerini.
Of course, there are those who will rush to argue that Syria is one thing but Cyprus – a full member of the EU – is another thing. Have you ever wondered how solid this relationship is? The whole of Cyprus was admitted to the EU in 2004 on the understanding that the Cyprus problem would be simultaneously solved. This did not happen and the balance of the responsibility for what was promised and did not materialise weighted against the Greek Cypriot side. If the rejection phenomenon is repeated (with or without a referendum), and leads to the withdrawal of the UN Peacekeeping Force, and if we end up clashing with the other side, who is in a position to assure us that the EU would not find a way of placing both the northern as well as the southern part of Cyprus outside the Union?
The nightmarish conclusion of my thinking is that the partition of Cyprus not only will not lead to the desired peace and security but it is more likely to be the starting point of new painful adventures with Turkey. This is a truly terrifying scenario that I will go so far as to call a possible Aleppo 2.
Those who will rush to reject such a scenario as a figment of the imagination of an ‘alarmist’ accountant, should recall the small proportion of Greek Cypriots, who, a few weeks before the 1974 invasion, believed that such a thing could happen. This percentage was not greater than 5%-10% of the population. Nonetheless, the invasion did materialise and the ‘alarmists’ were proved correct.
Christos P. Panayiotides is a retired Certified Public Accountant