It is readily apparent that the strategy followed on the Cyprus problem has turned the issue into a headache for the international community
The need to revise our national strategy on the Cyprus Problem is pressing, due to the following reasons:
- Seventy years of continuous efforts to settle the political status of Cyprus have led nowhere. On the contrary, what appeared in the early 1950s to be a perfectly legitimate political claim turned out to be one of the world’s most intractable political problems. The success of the Greek Cypriot community to control the government of the Republic of Cyprus, in conjunction with the accession of Cyprus to the European Community and the presence of a United Nations peace keeping force on the island have given a sense of political and economic security, which, however, can easily be overturned, as happened with the bombing of the Turkish air force in 1964, the Turkish invasion in 1974 and the economic crisis in 2012.
- Cyprus is located in Turkey’s underbelly, at a distance of only 70km, shorter than the distance between Nicosia and Limassol. This geographical reality is impossible to differentiate. Turkey is a large country, both in terms of territory and population (with 80 million inhabitants, compared to the 1 million in Cyprus and covering 80,000km² compared to the 9,000km² of Cyprus). Turkey’s military power is overwhelming compared to that of Cyprus while Turkey’s diplomatic tradition is undeniable. These and other advantages give Turkey its high geostrategic value.
- The allies of Cyprus are few with limited capabilities. With the exception of a period in the premiership of Costas Simitis, relations between Greece and Cyprus have never been entirely harmonious. Quite the opposite. On numerous occasions, the two countries found themselves holding opposing views. In the military area, Greece has a duty to protect all the Greek islands, which are scattered along the Turkish coast, while Greek military planes can hardly fly to Cyprus and return to their base without refuelling.
- In 2004, the European Union accepted Cyprus as a member on the basis of an undertaking that a swift settlement of the Cyprus problem would accompany the accession. This commitment was not honoured. Today, the EU sees Cyprus as a headache and an obstacle in the management of its relationship with a strategic player in the area, both from a political and an economic point of view. The practical consequences of this reality have been experienced in the recent past, when the support given to Cyprus in its conflict with Turkey was confined to certain “symbolic” measures of no practical value. Greek Cypriot expectations in this area are utopian. It has already been proven that any thought of inflicting pain on Turkey, in order to oblige the latter to yield to Greek Cypriot demands is mere wishful thinking.
- Cyprus’ occasional courting of affairs with Russia never had any practical value and were always confined to a general, ‘moral’ support with statements that were often capable of multiple interpretations. Neither in 1964 nor in 1974 nor in 2004 nor in 2012 did the Russians show any willingness to extend their help beyond the level of verbal proclamations of solidarity. On the contrary, it is well known that it has played a significant role in the rejection of the various plans that were proposed over time as solutions to the Cyprus problem; their objective was to maintain a climate of tension in the relationship of two members of NATO in the eastern Mediterranean.
- A significant parameter forming part of our national strategy has been the expectation that the exploitation of the underwater wealth of Cyprus would make all Cypriots millionaires. These expectations have been systematically cultivated by the governments of Cyprus, with a large dose of exaggeration in terms of the expected benefits. Unfortunately, recent developments have proven, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the ‘treasure’ was fool’s gold. Charles Ellinas, an acknowledged authority on these matters, in a recent article in the Cyprus Mail left no room for doubt as to what needs to be done.
As a result of the collapse of the oligopoly of the oil producing countries (OPEC), by the first months of 2020 the price of oil had already come down to the level of US$50-60 per barrel. The advent of the coronavirus pushed the price down further, to the level of US$20-30 per barrel. The economic impact of these developments on the large oil companies that had been licensed to seek commercial exploitation of the gas reserves located in the Cyprus EEZ was also dramatic and has forced these companies to drastically curtail their activities (to start with for a year but probably for a much longer period of time).
In the meantime, the EU has adopted medium to long term plans (2030-50) aiming at the substitution of oil with renewable forms of energy (such as solar and aeolian energy). As incredible as it may sound, similar plans have begun taking shape in the developed countries of the Middle East. Sunil Kaushal, Regional Chief Executive of the African and Middle East region of Standard Chartered Bank, writes in the World Economic Forum: “Progressive governments, particularly in the Gulf Cooperation Council, have expedited investments in renewables. With access to 366 days of sunshine and lower financing costs, the tariffs from renewables have now reached parity with fossil fuel-based power; solar is the new oil for the region. In 2019, Saudi Arabia implemented a $28 billion renewable energy development programme.”
Under these circumstances it is readily apparent that the strategy followed on the Cyprus problem has gone bankrupt and has turned the Greek Cypriots – in the eyes of foreigners – from the offended to the offenders, who have turned the Cyprus issue into a headache for the international community and to a constant source of friction and controversy in the eastern Mediterranean, by rejecting any kind of a compromise proposal for resolving the problem.
Against this background, the need to reformulate our national strategy towards Turkey is imperative. Turkey is seeking a protagonistic role in the eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus has an interest to support Turkey in attaining this goal because, after the reduction of the value of the Cypriot under-the-sea wealth to negligible levels, there is no scope for conflict. The only consideration that can reasonably be demanded and secured from Turkey is the termination of the occupation and the ending of the suffocating political and economic embrace of northern Cyprus. It is truly inconceivable for a member-state of the European Union to be politically and economically dependent on a third country. It goes without saying that such arrangements must be accompanied by practical and dependable measures that will safeguard the security, the prosperity and the political equality of the Turkish Cypriots, within the framework of a unified country, structured on the basis of a bicommunal, bizonal federation consisting of two federated states harmoniously cooperating. Such an arrangement would also be beneficial to Turkey because it would relieve her of the financial burden of maintaining and protecting a stillborn statelet.
Of course, given the human inability to recognise mistakes committed in the past, the formulation and the successful implementation of a new national strategy entails the distancing of the architects of the strategy followed so far and, more specifically, the resignation of the foreign affairs minister and the energy minister.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia