NICOSIA — To outcries from Cyprus, Greece, Russia and Germany, Turkey opened the beachfront area of the abandoned Varosha resort on the northern third of Cyprus it has occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion.
That came after Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pulled back demands for European Union sanctions over Turkey drilling in Cypriot waters and planning to do the same off Greek islands.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew an energy research vessel and warships near the Greek island of Kastellorizo to pave the way for talks in Ankara – not Athens – with Greek officials over boundaries in the Aegean and East Mediterranean.
He said no matter the outcome of the discussions that Turkey will never back down but the EU, after Anastasiades and Mitsotakis relented on demands for penalties, withheld sanctions at least until the end of the year so talks can proceed.
The opening of the beach on Varosha, which the legitimate government of the island fears could lead to renovating and reopening the town itself in defiance of United Nations resolutions, upset Greece and Turkey who did nothing but bark.
There were worries, however, that it could upset the balance of the Greek-Turkish talks and derail any hopes of resuming reunification talks for the island, the last round collapsing in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.
Those fell apart when Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci – facing a re-election challenge Aug. 11, said a 35,000-strong army on the occupied side would never be removed and as they wanted the right of military intervention.
“This decision is a blatant violation of the UN Security Council Resolutions and Greece is going to support all the relevant efforts of the Republic of Cyprus,” said Mitsotakis as bulldozers entered Varosha so that it can be developed.
In a report, the news agency Reuters noted that Varosha’s Greek-Cypriot residents fled during the and it has remained a no-go zone for 46 years, apart from the Turkish army and officials.
Turkey uses it as a bargaining chip in talks to resolve the island’s division but the opening of the beach has complicated hopes of a resolution, especially with Turkey, which pulled back one drilling ship, keeping another in Cypriot waters.
Greek diplomatic sources not named told the news agency that the move was especially provocative given that Greece, Cyprus and the EU backed down in a showdown with Turkey, withholding sanctions.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert described the town’s opening as “unnecessary and provocative” and that it is contrary to efforts to de-escalate tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the move was “unacceptable,” while decrying “unilateral actions” that violate scores of UN Security Council Resolutions although the UN has done nothing to stop Turkish drilling or provocations.
Anastasiades' repeated pleas for the UN to get involved have been ignored as well although Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was as the Swiss debacle and then issued a report blaming nobody for anything.
The European Union High Representative Josep Borrell spoke of a “serious violation of the ceasefire agreement” under the UN, which keeps a peacekeeping force on the island.
Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said if Turkey went ahead with the opening, as it did, that Greece and Cyprus will let the EU know about it and that “We will not allow provocations on the Cypriot issue to pass,” although Mitsotakis, at the EU meeting with Turkey, wouldn't back Cyprus over sanctions.