NICOSIA – Newly tightening relations between Israel and Turkey after the United States yanked support for the EastMed gas pipeline has Cypriot officials anxious that
it could be cut out of the route for energy going to the European Union.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine revealing the dangers of the EU’s reliance on Russian oil and gas, there’s a race on to find other sources, but the EastMed project that’s aimed at connecting energy to Greece via Cyprus and Crete, with Israel a partner, has been sidelined.
That was, said critics, in part because the US has shifted more toward Turkey while proclaiming that Cyprus had a right to look for oil and gas in its waters – where Turkey is unlawfully drilling in defiance of soft EU sanctions.
In a feature on the dilemma for Cyprus, The Cyprus Mail noted that Cyprus may be a victim of greater geopolitical interests that are trumping its hopes for the project to go forward.
That came after Israeli President Isaac Herzog, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apparently getting an upper hand by having foreign leaders come to him.
Turkey’s Energy Minister Fatih Donmez told reporters there that Israel’s natural gas could be “easily” transmitted abroad via Turkey’s pipeline network, cutting out Cyprus and Greece completely, giving Erdogan a win.
After a long period of tension, Turkey and Israel are drawing together, a shown by Herzog’s visit to Ankara although he tried to reassure that Cyprus wasn’t going to be shut out.
Erdogan, however, said that Herzog’s visit was “an opportunity to revive the cooperation on the topic of energy,” stressing Turkey’s readiness to cooperate with Israel in the energy sector.
Donmez and Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu are due to visit Israel in April for more talks on increased cooperation, the paper reported and noted that Shoz, after talks with Erdogan said, “Our cooperation in the field of energy is very important, not only between Germany and Turkey, but also between the EU and Turkey,” not citing the sanctions over drilling off Cyprus.
He said that the EU has to find sources other than Russian energy although not apparently noting that it could now become reliant on Turkey, which would give Erdogan more political cards to play against the bloc.
Germany earlier said it would halt certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would deliver natural gas from Russia and woulermd build terminals to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative.
Germany is also home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage and a major supplier of arms to Turkey, including submarine components that counter Greece’s advantage in German-made submarines.
NOT COOKING WITH GAS
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel also vetoed Mitsotakis’ call for sanctions against Turkey for its provocations that include plans to drill for energy off Greek islands and claiming Greek waters.
On March 8, EU officials debuted a plan to reduce imports of Russian natural gas by 66 percent this year and find some way to achieve energy independence from Russia “well before 2030,” but still reliant for eight years.
The EU relies on Russia for 40-45 percent of total natural gas consumption. That would seem to make the EastMed viable but it has run into higher interests, the report noted, also because it could bring in at most 12-15 percent of the energy that would be lost by ending Russian supplies.
The Jewish Institute for National Security of America said US President Joe Biden’s decision to back away from the EastMed project after Turkey opposed it showed was a critical mistake that “has been proven misguided by momentous events following Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.”
The think tank added: “With the Eastern Mediterranean’s abundant offshore energy resources becoming increasingly important economically and geopolitically as America’s European allies work to lessen their hydrocarbon dependence on Russia, the administration should reverse its January decision.”
The group called instead for greater US involvement in regional diplomatic and economic frameworks like the East Mediterranean Gas Forum and Greco-Cypriot ‘trilaterals’ with Israel and Egypt,” said the report by the newspaper’s Elias Hazou.
Chevron CEO Michael Wirth, whose company bought out US firm Noble Energy’s interest in looking for energy in Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field, said he wants EastMed to proceed.
But Energy analyst Charles Ellinas told The Sunday Mail on Cyprus that, “This is still mainly politicis. We must look carefully at the message from Europe,” indicating the work is being done in the shadows.
“It doesn’t matter if this succeeds or not. For investors, a clear message and clear policies are what is important. This uncertainty about the future of gas in Europe discourages investors,” points out Ellinas.
“Who will invest billions of dollars in long-term projects, such as the EastMed or a pipeline through Turkey, just to secure five years of exports? That requires the EU to confirm that use of gas in Europe will be longer-term, beyond 2040, something the EU is not prepared to do,” he said.
Cyprus’ Energy Minister Natasa Pilides, who said there might still be hope for EastMed, acknowledged it’s a long shot at best now because even it began now it’s not an answer to the long-term needs of the EU.
Professor of History and Political Science at the University of Nicosia Hubert Faustmann told the paper: “Greece, Egypt and Israel now all seek cooperation with Turkey,” Faustmann noted. “If Cyprus insists on a confrontational policy vis-a-vis Ankara, it would leave it out in the cold.”