By Christos Panayiotides
Turkey’s relations with the United States have unquestionably deteriorated to an extent which does not rule out the possibility of substantial further deterioration or even a definitive rupture, although the latter possibility still appears to be rather unlikely.
Of course, the worsening of relations was not a bolt out of the blue. Clouds appeared when the United States sided with the Kurds in their conflict with the Assad regime in Syria. Then, the attempted military coup followed in July 2016. Erdogan directly accused Washington and Fethullah Gulen, the self-exiled Turkish cleric, for being behind the uprising. Gulen’s extradition has been systematically but unsuccessfully pursued by Turkey since then.
These developments led Turkey to seek closer political and economic ties with Russia and China. Both these super-powers happily responded to Erdogan’s invitation. This led to the conclusion of important strategic agreements, such as the construction of nuclear power plants and the supply of S-400 missiles in the case of Russia. In the case of China, economic links have been strengthened which will ultimately lead Turkey to joining the Asian Economic Community (the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation).
Furthermore, the fraternisation of Turkey with countries not particularly liked by the US (such as Iran and Qatar) and its friendly disposition towards the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere, plus the hostility displayed by Turkey towards Israel compose the background against which the relationship of the two countries has evolved over the past two to three years.
In Cyprus, many people wonder what impact these developments are likely to have on them.
To start with, we have the prospect of relaunching the process of seeking a solution to the Cyprus problem. The impact of the developments in Turkey on the process could be a positive one, if Erdogan yields to American pressure and abandons the idea of distancing himself from the West. However, under these very same conditions, the impact could be negative, if the United States were to offer Cyprus to Turkey as an inducement for securing the rapprochement of the two countries.
In a definitive breach of the Turkish-American relationship, the danger of provoking military incidents on the part of Turkey, either for the purposes of diverting the public’s attention from the consequences of economic deprivation, or for claiming part of the submerged wealth of Cyprus and the Aegean, is readily visible. In any event, in a definitive breach of the relationship, Turkey will have every reason to preserve (and reinforce) its influence on Cyprus, thus indirectly assisting Russia in realising its objective of expanding its military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean (beyond Syria).
What is certain – in all the possible scenarios – is that those who will suffer serious negative consequences will be the Turkish Cypriots, who – once they realise the adverse impact of northern Cyprus being politically and economically dependent on Turkey – will seek to relocate in other member states of the European Union (while this option remains open!). Already, within the span of a few days, the consequences of the dramatic devaluation of the Turkish lira have been deeply felt by our compatriots.
Under these difficult and volatile conditions, what is the course Cyprus should follow?
Confronting this developing crisis requires a prudent handling of the problems and the adjustment of the strategies and the tactics followed, literally on a daily basis. In my opinion, the achievement of this goal requires the formation of a seven-member council, comprising the president, the foreign minister, the finance minister, the Disy chairman and another party official and Akel’s general secretary plus another party official. The role of the council will be to assist and support the government in its difficult task of confronting the crisis.
Given the irresponsible behaviour of the smaller parties in the past (with the leaking of information and documents and the making of demagogic public statements), they must be excluded from any form of participation during this critical time in the process of formulating the strategic targets and the tactical moves of Cyprus.
Fasten your belts and be ready for turbulence.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist writing in the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia