Greece, Cyprus Lock Arms Over Turkish Provocations

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades meet at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, on Tuesday, Sep. 10, 2019. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Tatiana Bollari)

NICOSIA – Visting Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades got the full diplomatic embrace from Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis who promised him full backing as Turkey keeps energy drill ships in the island’s sovereign waters and has ramped up tensions.

Mitsotakis will meet with Turkish President recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly which will be held in New York from September 17-30 but former similar meetings between the Turkish leader and Greek Premiers has only to photo opportunities and no real progress in lessening the anxiety.

They are expected in New York to talk about their differences in the Aegean and East Mediterranean and Turkey’s continued drilling in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in defiance of Greece, Cyprus, the United States and European Union soft sanctions.

During their meeting, the two officials will discuss, among others, the increased tensions in the Eastern Mediteranean and Turkey’s activities in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and the region of Famagusta, in the Turkish-occupied north of the island.

In Athens though, Mitsotakis took a harder line with Erdogan testing the Conservatives leader who took power after ousting the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA in July 7 snap elections, and the Turkish President continuing to provoke successive Greek governments.

Mitsotakis and Anastasiades, whose pleas to the UN for help have been ignored, said that their countries stand together and are ready to take measures against Ankara’s “unlawful actions,” said Kathimerini, but they didn’t say what they would be with Cyprus hopelessly outgunned.

“Turkey’s illegal behavior off the Republic of Cyprus continues to provoke,” Mitsotakis said, adding that its “confrontational rhetoric also demonstrates its international isolation.” Greece, Mitsotakis said, “always stands by the side of Cyprus in its efforts for reunification and to have its rights respected.”

They expressed “their absolute will for the resumption of substantive negotiations that will lead to a viable and functional solution to the Cyprus problem,” referring to decades of diplomatic failures for reunification with Turkey occupying the northern third since a 1974 invasion.

Mitsotakis and Anastasiades were said to have also talked about a coordinated approach before the Greek leader meets Erdogan in New York, with Greece also needing to be wary as the Turkish leader has threatened to flood Greek islands and the European Union, which has closed its borders to refugees and migrants, with 5.5 million more unless he gets his way.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu put more cold water on any prospects of a solution after insisting that Greek-Cypriots, who form two-thirds of the island’s population, must give Turkish-Cypriots equal rights in decision making in a unified state before talks can resume.

He said at the same time, however, that Turkey would continue drilling – which has prevented any hope of formally restarting unity talks – and would keep at it unless Turkish-Cypriot are allowed to take part in the licensing for foreign companies drilling for oil and gas in the EEZ, parts of which Turkey doesn’t recognize.

He also rejected a proposal by Anastasiades to give Turkish Cypriots 30 percent of the proceeds from gas, leading the Cypriot President to say the statements showed a “strong concern of the Greek-Cypriot community that Turkey has the complete control of the Turkish-Cypriot community,” and dances to Erdogan’s tune although Mustafa Akinci is the occupied side’s leader.

While all that was going on, 14 Turkish fighter jets on Sept. 10 violated Greek national airspace 50 times in the northeastern, central and southeastern Aegean, which led to three mock dogfights with Greek jets, Turkey keeping up provocations as it claims to want good relations in the region.