NICOSIA – With the European Union reluctant to get tough and issuing only soft sanctions over Turkish drilling in Cypriot waters, the island’s legitimate government is blocking tougher measures against officials from Russia-annexed Crimea.
The EU is fearful of provoking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his country’s energy invasion of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ,) parts of which Turkey doesn’t recognize, and as he has threatened to flood the bloc with millions more refugees through Greek islands unless he gets his way.
Cyprus has turned to using veto powers given EU countries where decisions must be unanimous, blocking Russian sanctions as an apparent bargaining chip to force tougher measures against Turkey, noted Reuters, citing unnamed diplomatic sources.
But Cyprus’ government denied that was the case and said more time was needed to study the proposed measures against Crimean officials although the move came as President Nicos Anastasiades had openly displayed dismay he’s not getting more support.
Turkey, which has occupied the northern third of the island since an unlawful 1974 invasion, has ships in Cyprus’ EEZ, parts of which Turkey doesn’t recognize and as the spat between the countries has brought worries of a conflict.
Anastasiades offered Turkish-Cypriots in the occupied territory 30 percent of potentially lucrative revenues but that was rejected as Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they want to take part in the licensing of foreign energy companies in the EEZ.
The EU said it would issue bans and asset freezes but has postponed saying which Turkish officials they would target in an apparent bid to get Erdogan to back off but as he has snubbed his nose and pressed on.
“The way Cyprus is hijacking the Russia listings has deeply irritated its friends and partners around the table. It is all the more surprising since Cyprus has enjoyed unparalleled solidarity from its EU partners over the last few months (in the dispute with Turkey),” said one EU diplomat without explaining why the bloc hasn’t stood stronger by Cyprus.
A second diplomat, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Poland and Germany were among those pushing Cyprus to stop blocking the new Crimea measures.
“The Cypriots want to have sanctions on Turkey for drilling and have been frustrated that it is taking time,” said the second diplomat. “This is why they are meddling with the Crimea listings.”
“There is no connection made between the two sanctions regimes. We are in the process of reviewing the information provided with regard to the Ukraine sanctions,” Cypriot Foreign Ministry spokesman, Demetris Samuel told Reuters.
On Turkey, Samuel added: “Our aim is to see the (EU decisions) implemented. We feel that it is important… to expedite and finalize this work with regards to the listings,” with no sign it’s anything other than a toothless attempt to make Erdogan change his mind.
A third EU diplomat said he still hoped the list of sanctioned Crimean officials would be approved “early next week,, or the matter would have to go before EU ambassadors. “Everything depends on Cyprus and whether they will drop their objections,” he said.
If sanctions are imposed, asset freezes and travel bans are likely to target the Turkish military and captains of the drilling ships, rather than senior Turkish officials, diplomats said although Cyprus hasn’t enforced international arrest warrants.