So, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis starts his pilgrimage abroad in Cyprus – just days before the Greek-Cypriot leadership (re-)engages in informal talks with Turkish-Cypriot counterpart in (equally informal, but nonetheless significant) preparation of some kind of UN-supported/internationally mandated restart of negotiations, pre-negotiations, quasi-negotiations over the Cyprus issue. This co-incides with aggressive leaks on part of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, that Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis had more-or-less accepted, when the Crans-Montana Conference was over (or: appeared doomed), to explore a two-states or confederal solution for the island; also, with the “faits accompis” piling up, of Turkish drillships Fatih and Yavuz operating on Cyprus EEZ for several weeks now.
Greek politics have always been closely intertwined with the Cyprus issue – even before Turkish occupation of the northern part of the island, when Turkey seized the opportunity given to it by a (failed)patch organized in 1974 by the Greek Junta. Today things have taken a different turn at least in three ways:
First, the Cyprus issue acquired an energy component, one that is connected with EastMed politics, last week the EastMed Gas Forum got together the Energy Ministers of Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Italy – with U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry joining in. Turkish forays in Cyprus’ own EEZ should be seen (also) in that context.
Second, Turkey remains in tense relations with the U.S. – at least following its final (?) decision to integrate Russian S-400 missiles to its defense system. True enough, “tense relations” in no way mean an overall shift in alliances – but the Rubio-Menendez bill on US strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean did much to get Cyprus closer to US interest, notably through lifting the prohibition on US arms transfers to Cyprus (but did so at the cost of calling to Cyprus “to deny Russian military vessels access to [its] ports for refueling and servicing”, further to implementing reforms on anti-money laundering legislation).
Third – and most importantly from a Greek point of view – Turkey looks set on shifting its own search for natural gas northwards from Cyprus towards the South-Easternmost point of Greek continental shelf, at Kastellorizo and adjoining islets. It would seem that the first such move is just days away. So, if something close to an overall energy negotiating table is being set up for the Eastern Mediterranean (with maps widely circulating, the latest being the one by State Department cartographers and energy diplomats – notably Amos Hochstein – under the guidance of former V.P. Joe Biden), Greece should decide whether it will join or not . In earnest. Sooner rather than later.
As should Turkey…
… with the decision to join in (or not) the forthcoming Cyprus issue negotiations – the timeline looks set at September/October 2019, according to UN plans – being just around the corner.
Chronicle of an impasse foretold? Or of things starting to move on? Will Kyriakos Mitsotakis break free of his own party’s traditional immobilism (of the Karamanlis/Molyviatis era) and deeply rooted nationalist reflexes (of the Samaras version)?