After President Anastasiades walked out of the talks in Crans-Montana in July 2017, he focused on his re-election, avoiding a settlement and on the forging of alliances with neighbouring countries, in the belief that this would allow Cyprus to proceed with its energy plans undisturbed by Turkey. He achieved the first two objectives but he made a terrible miscalculation on the third, which was based on wishful thinking and delusions of grandeur rather than any pragmatic analysis of the situation.
In the end, his policy of making Cyprus an energy player in the Eastern Mediterranean and creating an energy hub in the area, while excluding Turkey went horribly wrong. Not only has Turkey been entering Cyprus’ EEZ at will, carrying out exploratory work, creating problems for oil companies and causing instability in the region but it has also rendered the trilateral alliances, in which Anastasiades had put so much faith, meaningless. The main participants in these alliances, Greece, Egypt and Israel are making energy plans and reaching agreements that exclude Cyprus.
These were the countries with which Cyprus was to build the EastMed pipeline taking natural gas, via Cyprus to Greece. They had even persuaded the EU to fund a feasibility study, even though industry insiders always maintained it was an unviable project, something that did not stop the Anastasiades government from making political capital out of it; the project had the full support of all the political parties. In recent months, however, all our trilateral allies have been discussing or making alternative arrangements, behind Cyprus’ back.
Greece’s government, according to press reports, had been in talks with Egypt and Israel about taking gas from Israel’s Leviathan field via Egypt to Crete where it would be liquefied and exported to Europe. Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis, who discussed this project with Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al Sisi in November, had kept Anastasiades in the dark, failing to mention this at their meeting a few weeks ago, according to government sources in Nicosia. Meanwhile, two weeks ago, the governments of Egypt and Israel signed an agreement for the building of a subsea pipeline from Leviathan to Egypt, indicating that Israel wants to increase its gas exports and will not be waiting for the EastMed pipeline to do it.
What will happen to the agreement Cyprus signed with Egypt in 2018 for the building of a pipeline from the Aphrodite field to Egypt is unclear. Making things even more difficult for the Cyprus government, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that efforts were underway to improve his country’s relations with Egypt, the ultimate aim being the signing of an EEZ agreement. He praised Egypt for not infringing on Turkey’s continental shelf when it reached an agreement with Greece on the delineation of their respective EEZs. Where would the normalisation of Turkey-Egypt relations and agreement on the seas leave Cyprus?
The words of Disy chief Averof Neophytou, that without a Cyprus settlement we would also lose our EEZ were not as alarmist as some claimed at the time. All planning on energy by our allies, including Greece, is circumventing Cyprus, making a mockery of claims that we would become an energy hub through which Eastern Mediterranean gas would be exported to Europe. Foreign Minister Nicos Chrsitodoulides had even boasted that Cyprus would be a key energy player in the region and that through its alliances it had upgraded its strategic significance. The upgrading of our strategic significance through alliances is a thesis promoted by the hawks of the foreign ministry, har-line parties and their media cheerleaders, all blind to the size of the country.
These delusions of grandeur have always cost us dearly. Anastasiades’ idea that Cyprus could actually exploit its hydrocarbons through alliances with neighbouring countries and exclude Turkey from the proceedings has been exposed as the ultimate illusion by what is happening around us. In the end, Cyprus has been excluded from the energy planning of it trilateral allies. As things are, it might not even have a market for its natural gas. Anastasiades can blame Turkey’s bullying and disregard for international law, but a pragmatic and responsible leader would have considered these possibilities and calculated the risks when formulating his policy on energy. He did not. Was he so naïve to believe that Turkey would accept being excluded from the energy plans for the Eastern Mediterranean region, its neighbourhood, and do nothing about it?
The reality is that unless Cyprus reaches an agreement with Turkey regarding the EEZ it is unlikely to sell any natural gas. A pragmatic leader would not only have understood this, he would also have realised that the most cost-effective way to exploit the island’s natural gas would be by selling it to Turkey – a huge market with unlimited demand. Of course, there would first have to be a Cyprus settlement, which Anastasiades is not very enthusiastic about.