Cyprus Mail
Guest Columnist Opinion

How to handle Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus’s EEZ

The Turkish drillship Fatih

By Panayiotis Tilliros

On the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey in 1974 and the current second invasion of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), it should be underlined that international law is not a guarantee of protection for the weak. Nor is hope or reliance on ‘allies’ a strategy, based on the lessons taught by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. Realism indicates the path of virtue and wisdom. In the light of constant Turkish aggression against Hellenism, the following proposals comprise important policy choices and courses of action that can offer effective ways of handling the Turkish threat:

Greece must do its utmost to exit from the Thucydidean trap of an advancing Turkey. First, it must reconstitute the balance of power as fast as possible. Second, it should devise a long-term strategy based on the self-evident Roman doctrine “If you want peace prepare for war / Si vis pacem, para bellum”.

War does not necessarily mean catastrophe if a country is well prepared and determined to defend its freedom and its honour. It has not yet been comprehended that in the ambiguous but realistic Orwellian world of the political and international chessboard peace can mean war, and war peace.

Cyprus should persuade Greece to conclude without delay a demarcation agreement of their respective EEZs in order to pre-empt Turkish moves to reach such an agreement with one of the disputed regimes in Libya, thus laying claim to Crete’s EEZ. Greece should also define its EEZ boundaries with Egypt and choose the right horse to back in Libya with the same aim in mind.

Both Cyprus and Greece should capitalise on the vested interests of countries like the USA, France and Israel in order to counterbalance Turkish might. There must be a quid pro quo for any facilities offered.

A small country like Cyprus can leverage its foreign policy influence beyond material capabilities only through alliances where possible and certainly alignments in different fields of common interests with neighbouring countries.

The promotion of existing trilateral/quadrilateral partnerships and the further enhancement of regional cooperation with neighbouring countries based on a shared vision and win-win solutions will maximise the benefits for all and safeguard regional stability.

This does not exclude Turkey provided it respects international law, ceases the illegal drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ and cooperates for a fair solution of the Cyprus problem that encompasses withdrawal of Turkish occupying troops and international guarantees, excluding Greece, Turkey and Great Britain, none of which have respected or safeguarded the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC). Ankara’s current intimidation is an omen of how much “freedom” the Cypriot people will have in the proposed confederation under Turkish suzerainty.

Even if negotiations on resolving the Cyprus problem have to restart, the energy program must not be on the table. However, ceasing immediately all illegal drilling in Cyprus’s EEZ by Turkey should preferably be a pre-condition for restarting talks. The energy wealth is practically the only weapon available to the RoC to help play an important role in the European Union, regarding its energy security and find a fairer solution to the Cyprus problem.

Hence, Cyprus should remain unequivocally committed to continuing its hydrocarbon exploration and proceed with monetisation the soonest possible. If Cyprus does not use this trump card wisely as an incentive for Turkey to acquiesce to a fairer solution, then this critical window of opportunity will close without achieving the desired outcome.

Specifically, any resolution of the “Cyprus Problem” under the terms dictated by the Turkish occupation will simply legalise the illegal status quo. What is currently on offer is just partition disguised in Orwellian newspeak obfuscating language as a bizonal, bicommunal federation.

In return for some minor territorial adjustments, Ankara will turn Cyprus into a Turkish protectorate. Such a development is not in the interests of the West, the USA, the European Union and Israel, which will be able to gain strategic depth in the air and the sea via an independent and sovereign Cyprus, without any restrictions imposed by Turkey and its hegemonic ambitions.

By disseminating these facts persuasively to foreign governments and decision-making centres, the necessary international pressure upon Turkey may be forthcoming once the West realizes that its interests can best be served by a truly independent and sovereign Cyprus and not one that will effectively be under Turkish overlordship.

Given Turkey’s menacing aggressiveness, any resolution of the Cyprus problem without prior delineation of the EEZ between the RoC and Turkey at the median seawater line prescribed by UNCLOS, secured under a New Treaty of exclusively International or Security Council Guarantees, would be inadmissible and politically myopic and dangerous.

If left afterwards, Turkey, as the stronger party, will determine what happens using the Turkish Cypriot veto, which Ankara demands in order to turn Cyprus into its satellite. Hence, once the issues of the return of occupied territory and the constitution of a properly-functioning state are settled, recognition by Turkey of the RoC EEZ should be part of the solution package.

The existing National Investment Fund / Sovereign Wealth Fund Law safeguards fully the interests of the Turkish-Cypriots, indeed of all the population. The share of Turkish-Cypriot revenues after subtracting all capital and operational expenses should not exceed their 18% share of the population prior to the Turkish invasion.

Any talk of creating an escrow account on their behalf, or any oversight of the Fund by any organisation, disputes the credibility of the RoC and compromises its sovereignty. In any case, what Turkey really wants is well-known. Turkey has not invaded Cyprus, nor remained on the island as an occupying force in order to protect the interests of the Turkish-Cypriots but in order to serve its own long-term plans.

As a concession to Turkey, the proposed East Med gas pipeline should be abandoned in return for rejecting a pipeline through Turkey too. The government, based on a revised Master Plan, should launch immediately the preparations for the construction of the LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) Plant and related infrastructure, such as Pre-FEED (Preliminary Front End Engineering Design) and FEED (Front End Engineering Design). By the time the FID (Final Investment Decision) stage is reached, proven gas reserves will be more than sufficient than the existing gas-in-place in the Calypso (Block 6) and Glafcos (Block 10), even allowing for Aphrodite’s gas being directed for liquefaction in Egypt. This is neither a gamble nor a leap of faith.

It is a strategy to forestall and pre-empt Ankara’s plans to direct East Med gas by pipeline to Turkey. Forecasts indicate that a wave of LNG will be heading to Europe (besides the higher-priced Asian markets) in order to satisfy rising demand and move towards a greener energy mix, in accordance with the European Energy Union goals.

Therefore, all the pre-conditions for a successful venture are in place. Economic, political and geopolitical considerations render a three-train. LNG Plant a necessity of extreme national importance. Safeguarding the fifth energy corridor for an independent and separate supply of Europe from the East Med, while denying Turkey full control of energy flows from the region is a question of literally national survival.

The EU will then have reasons to support a fairer solution to the Cyprus problem. America’s ExxonMobil supports the construction of an LNG plant, while the Italian ENI, with leading expertise in LNG and heavily involved in the Cyprus gas exploration program is certain to invest along with the French Total. This is how economic and strategic alliances are built.

The LNG Plant will impart substantial geopolitical leverage and deterrence to the RoC as a strategic energy player. The earliest possible construction of the LNG Plant will create favourable dynamics, drawing in the reserves of Israel and the expected gas discoveries of Lebanon and Syria. Common ground may be found even with competing Russian gas interests. The advantages from an LNG Plant are far greater than those of the East Med gas pipeline, which, besides its technical challenges, constitutes a red cape for the Turkish bull.

The gas liquefaction Plant will bestow maximal benefits on the economy and enhance Cyprus prospects to become an energy trading hub and a service centre. LNG from Cyprus can be exported to Asia and Europe via the import terminal in Alexandroupolis. Greece will derive huge benefits by onward gas supply of the Balkans and East Europe via the Interconnector Greece Bulgaria (IGB) pipeline, thus relieving Russian dependence, in line with EU policy.

Finally, the LNG Plant will enable regional cooperation by creating common economic, commercial and strategic interests. Turkey can be allowed to invest in the LNG Plant at Vassilikos bay with or without a solution to the Cyprus problem for self-evident reasons. Natural gas from the LNG Plant can be sold to Turkey based on appropriate international contracts determining the terms of such a trade. It is noted that Turkey already possesses four LNG import terminals, two land-based and two FSRUs, of which one at a port in the Dörtyol district (near Ceyhan), located in the ex-Syrian Hatay province, very near Cyprus.

Some analysts have suggested activating the EU’s mutual assistance/defence clause (article 42(7) of the Treaty on the EU). Even though this seemingly binding obligation of the Treaty of Lisbon strengthens the solidarity between EU member-states, it does not affect the neutrality of certain EU countries and is consistent with the commitments of EU countries that are NATO members. Furthermore, Article 42(7), just like the solidarity clause of Article 222, providing for the obligation to act jointly when an EU country is the victim of a terrorist attack, are largely seen as merely symbolic with little actual relevance.

At any rate, the slow pace of reaction and the inadequate sanctions of the EU against Turkey, as well as the lack of solidarity when the EU / Eurogroup imposed an illegal and discriminatory bail-in on Cyprus in March 2013, are indicators that expectations should not be set high, as national interests always take precedence.

Reviving the “Unified or Joint Military Defence Doctrine” has its merits but will lack credibility unless supported by concrete military measures, such as the installation of an effective air defence missile system and the display of a demonstrable will by Greece to abide by the doctrine.

Integrating the air defence systems of Greece, Cyprus and Israel and regional defence cooperation and coordination also appear to be rational proposals provided the USA gives its blessing and Israel agrees in the context of the quadrilateral alignment of interests. Enhancing security and defence capabilities through PESCO initiatives may also add value. Implementing the above measures and actions across the board will create synergies and dynamics that will certainly strengthen the RoC position against Turkey’s aggression.


Panayiotis Tilliros (Economist, International Relations Analyst / Expert in Economic, Financial and Energy Issues) B.Sc. degree in Economics, London School of Economics, UK, M.Sc. degree in Comparative Government, LSE, UK, Postgraduate Diploma in Economics (distinction), UCL, UK, M.Sc. degree in Monetary and Financial Economics, University of Cyprus, MA degree in International Relations and European Studies with a concentration on energy security issues (oil and gas) (Summa Cum Laude, University of Nicosia, Research Associate at the Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs which is affiliated with the University of Nicosia, Doctoral candidate.

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