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Our View: Cyprus’ lack of options on EEZ standoff has been exposed

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THE GOVERNMENT and the political parties have not just toned down their rhetoric about the Turkish actions in the Cypriot EEZ, they have also stopped issuing announcements about the latest provocations. Perhaps it is because they have realised that Cyprus is in a very weak position and any words uttered now will sound hollow, given that they cannot be backed by actions.

This is why the government spokesman, Nicos Christodoulides, keeps saying that there were diplomatic efforts in progress and the government was awaiting the results. Nobody has asked him what the government would do if the diplomatic efforts, which President Anastasiades has also referred to, yielded no results. What happens then? Would the Saipem 12000 drillship leave the area and head to its next assignment outside the Cypriot EEZ without carrying out any exploratory drilling at the Soupia plot?

It is clear that the government’s lack of options has been exposed and the only objective now is that there would be no escalation by Turkey. This was evident on Wednesday, after a report in the Phileleftheros website, implied that the government was taking retaliatory action, by issuing a Navtex warning for a sea area of 600 square kilometres, “adjoined to the zone that was ‘reserved’ by Turkey”. The report claimed there would be naval exercises on Thursday afternoon with live fire.

Spokesman Christodoulides wasted no time in repeating that the government was relying on diplomatic efforts for the resolution of the dispute and that the Navtex was issued on behalf of the UN peacekeeping force in the Lebanon Unifil and the Russian Federation for exercises they would hold in the sea. Reserving a sea area on behalf of other countries was “standard procedure” Christodoulides stressed, not wanting anyone to think the Republic would engage in a tit-for-tat with Turkey.

This was just minor damage limitation, because great damage has been done to Cyprus’ energy plans by Turkey preventing the Saipem 12000 reaching its drilling target. How many other oil companies will now risk hiring a drillship, at huge cost, and bringing it to the Cypriot EEZ where Turkish warships could prevent it carrying out any exploratory drilling? The Republic, which has the contractual responsibility of ensuring a drillship would be able to carry out its work, is unable to give any guarantee that such an incident would not be repeated.

The diplomatic efforts being made are unlikely to yield any results. No country or organisation, with the exception of a mild announcement by the EU, has condemned Turkey’s actions. The general message of the international community, including the UN, was ‘solve the Cyprus problem’ so that such incidents would be avoided. The government has some tough decisions to take.

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