NICOSIA – With 35,000 Turkish troops already stationed on the occupied northern third of the island, Cyprus’ legitimate government is worried it would be in the crosshairs if a war between Turkey and Greece breaks out.
“We fear that any conflict in the Aegean Sea will affect us directly because we’ll be used as the weakest point in the whole story,” Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told Bloomberg TV.
President Nicos Anastasiades long ago had said he feared that Turkey’s end game isn’t reunification of the island divided by two unlawful 1974 invasions but to take the rest of it.
The anxiety is being ramped up by rising tension by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly warning of an attack on Greece and demanding Greece take troops off Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast.
Facing tough re-elections in 2023, Erdogan has become more bellicose in what critics said was an attempt to deflect attention from a sinking economy and record inflation and using nationalist rhetoric to do it.
“Listening to Mr. Erdogan pretending that he is under threat from Greece I would qualify it as preposterous and ludicrous,” Kasoulides said. “It is he who threatens, he who has a revisionism policy.”
Tiny Cyprus – apart from the occupied territory – is a member of the European Union which has offered only limp support against Turkish provocations and issued soft sanctions for Turkey drilling for oil and gas in Cypriot waters.
The island, the news agency noted, was effectively partitioned in 1963 when fighting erupted between Greek and Turkish-Cypriots, three years after independence from the former Colonial ruler The United Kingdom.
The 1974 invasions by Turkey, with the implicit support of the United States, brought division and Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar said they don’t want reunification, but recognition of the isolated occupied side.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which brought sanctions by the EU, has further complicated the issue as Turkey rejected those penalties and Cyprus reluctantly imposed them although it has a large Russian population and is a key vacation place for Russians.
“Our relations with Russia have changed, but I hope not forever,” Kasoulides said. “Our positions could not be other than allying with our partners in the EU and US,” he added.