NICOSIA — Unable to get the European Union to do more than issue soft sanctions against Turkish drilling for oil and gas in Cypriot waters and increasing tension, President Nicos Anastasiades said if military means it will be devastating for Greek-Cypriots.
“If we consider that we can provide a solution militarily, through militarization, this will be the end of Cypriot-Hellenism, which is something I do not want,” he told Cypriot channel RIK, an excerpt of the interview set to be aired July 1 showed, said Kathimerini.
“This is not a note of pessimism or surrender, quite the opposite. You have to know the facts if you choose weapons,” he added, noting that the only “weapons” used by Cyprus are diplomacy, which has failed to convince Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop the drilling and provocations.
The EU is reluctant to confront Erdogan, fearful he will unleash more refugees and migrants on the bloc through Greece.
Turkey is holding some 5.5 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Afghanistan and Syria’s civil war, and is supposed to contain them under a 2016 swap deal with the EU.
That has been essentially-suspended with Turkey continuing to let human traffickers flood Greek islands and Erdogan trying to get some across Greece’s land border, upset that the bloc hasn’t sent him 3 billion euros ($3.37 billion) held back from the deal for now.
The EU offered more lip service support to Cyprus without backing it up with any new measures to get Turkey to stop drilling, with visiting EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell saying more diplomacy will be tried although it has failed outright.
The EU hasn’t moved to halt Turkey’s hopes of joining the bloc, which has been going on since 2005 and stalled for years, further under Erdogan’s rule as he has jailed more journalists than any country in the world and purged civil society, the media, judiciary and military after a failed 2016 coup attempt against him.
“We welcome the invitation by the government of Cyprus to Turkey to negotiate in good faith the maritime delimitation between their relevant coasts," Borrell said after talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.
“And on that, we will be also engaging because regional stability is a priority of the European Union,” he said, diplomatic boilerplate to usually mean there’s no progress but there’s no will for further provocation of Erdogan.
Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state, bars its ships and planes, and has sent warship-escorted ships to drill for gas in waters where the ethnically-split island nation has exclusive economic rights.
Turkey, which has occupied the northern third of the island since an unlawful 1974 invasion and keeps a 35,000-strong army there, claims nearly half of Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone and says it's acting to protect its rights and those of Turkish-Cypriots.
Cyprus accuses Turkey of flouting international law and of using force to get its own way in the region, calling it part of “alarming behavior" that upends moves by other countries in the region to forge partnerships.
Significant gas deposits have been found in recent years in areas where Cyprus has licensed companies including France's Total, Italy's Eni and ExxonMobil to search for hydrocarbons.
“Turkey stands out in the region, as a lone spoiler that seeks to undermine regional cooperation, stability and security," Christodoulides said. “We see this also in Libya, Syria, Iraq."
Cyprus’ Deputy Government spokesman said Borrell told Anastasiades the EU would “continue to send clear messages to Ankara to respect international law” and that the bloc would “exert pressure on Turkey to immediately end its violations,” although it hasn’t done so and ignored the Cypriot President’s entreaties to do more than jawbone with Erdogan.
Borrell repeated that the EU fully supports Cyprus' sovereign rights and has taken concrete action to back up its words, citing the soft sanctions on top Turkish petroleum company officials over drilling in Cypriot waters but exempting Erdogan and political leaders.
The EU official lauded Cyprus for trying avoid an escalation “that could be damaging for all of us” and said maritime border negotiations should be in line with international law that Turkey doesn’t recognize, the EU preferring good neighborly relations
“That’s why the European Union was invented to foster good neighbors relations and to find solutions through dialogue and negotiations,” Borrell also said.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)