EVENTS of the last few weeks must have shaken up the Anastasiades government, shattering its illusions and exposing the foreign minister’s theories about Cyprus gaining regional strategic importance and comparative advantages through the multi-dimensional foreign policy. When the theories are tested practically, they are found wanting as we have seen recently, with the government desperately looking for ways to conceal the lack of options in countering Turkey’s unlawful actions in the Cypriot EEZ.
When the Fatih drillship anchored 60km west of Paphos with the aim of carrying out exploratory drilling – this has started – the Anastasiades government secured some routinely supportive statements from countries like the US and Russia, neither of which condemned what was described as a Turkish invasion. Apart from Greece, only the EU issued a strongly-worded statement censuring Turkey’s actions, but that was to be expected. These statements had zero effect on Ankara which on Thursday sent a second drillship, the Yavuz, to an unspecified location off the Karpas coast where it is scheduled to start drilling in July.
In Cyprus, the parties, showing their lack pragmatism, demanded that the EU impose sanctions on Turkey similar to those imposed on Russia over the annexation of Crimea, while the government made this a policy objective. Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides, however, found it difficult to convince the meeting of the General Affairs Council in Brussels last Tuesday to endorse the idea of taking measures, reportedly threatening to veto the EU’s current enlargement process if it did not. He got his way and the European Council, subsequently welcomed its invitation to the Commission and the European External Action Service to “monitor developments and submit options for targeted measures without delay.”
Considering several member states made it clear that they did not favour antagonising Turkey, because of a number of reasons the most important being the refugee issue, there is a big question mark over whether measures would be imposed. If some are adopted, they would be anodyne, intended more as a concession to member state than to hurt Turkey. Then again, the Cyprus government needs to be seen to be doing something, even though it knows it is in a no-win situation. President Erdogan is not the type of politician that backs down, especially now that he has upped his nationalist rhetoric and threats.
This, understandably, worries Nicosia which also knows there is very little, if anything, it can do to stop Erdogan’s aggressive tactics. Neither our so-called strategic allies nor the big countries of the EU would jeopardise relations with Turkey over its violations of the Cypriot EEZ. The EU will show solidarity with a fellow member-state but there are limits to this – it will not sacrifice the interests of the Union in Turkey over the Cypriot EEZ and we are in a fantasy land if we think it would.
By sending its drillships into the Cypriot EEZ Turkey has now created a fait accompli in the sea and once again we are expecting other countries and organisations to sort out problems President Anastasiades brought upon us with his poor judgment. He actually thought he could exclude Turkey from the energy plans of the region by mentioning our sovereign rights. Was he so naïve he thought Erdogan would respect international law or that the US would intervene to stop Turkey carrying out drilling in the Cypriot EEZ?
The painful truth is that despite our trilateral alliances, our strategic co-operation with the US and our membership of the EU we are on our own in facing Turkey, just as we were in 1974. As in ’74 and the years that followed, when we suffered much from Turkey’s violations of international law, we will secure many supportive words and resolutions from many sources but only a fool would think these will stop Turkey drilling in the Cypriot EEZ. In the end, the only help we can expect from our allies and the international community is a call to solve our differences at the negotiating table.