NICOSIA – The need to get away from the European Union relying on energy from Russia, highlighted by the invasion of Ukraine, means Cyprus should work with Turkey to find energy off the island, US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said.
That was a win for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after he saw the US also pull support for the stalled EastMed pipeline project in which Greece, Cyprus and Israel agree to build a 1900-kilometer (1180-mile) natural gas pipeline to connect energy to Greece via Crete.
Turkey has also been drilling for oil and gas in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) despite soft European Union sanctions and the United Nations ignored President Nicos Anastasiades’ plea to stop it somehow.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has become a big game-changer that tilted the balance even further toward Turkey, with Erdogan wanting to make his country the major regional player.
After Nuland told Kathimerini that EastMed is going nowhere – disputed by Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias – she said that trying to reunite Cyprus almost 48 years after Turkish invasions seized and occupied the northern third of the island is no longer a prerequisite for energy cooperation, The Cyprus Mail reported.
She told the newspaper Hurriyet during a visit to Turkey that, “Among the things that this war highlights, is the need for all countries that still have a high amount of imports of oil and gas from Russia in their mix to find ways to diversify and to diversify fast.”
She didn’t specify how Turkey, which gets about half its gas from Russia, could do that but noted that after being at odds for years that Turkey and Israel are also moving closer together.
There were opportunities in the Eastern Mediterranean, some involving Turkey’s neighbors, some involving new explorations and pipelines, she told Hurriyet. “We particularly want to help Turkey and its goal of diversifying away from Russian dependence,” she added.
“I was in Turkey … and I have the strong sense they too are looking at diversifying energy supplies,” she said.
“So, there may be an opportunity in this that we need to develop and continue to talk about…. The idea would be for everybody to benefit because there is a need for alternative supplies of energy everywhere,” she added.
She repeated the EastMed pipeline isn’t viable – which Turkey said too – because it’s too expensive, would take too long and offer too little energy to be an effective answer for right now.
Anastasiades didn’t like that and said, “What we are waiting for is the final report which was financed by the EU. The US does not decide about a European project,” despite American influence in the region.
He also confirmed reports that Nuland “conveyed the need to involve Turkey in the energy developments of the Mediterranean” and said his response was that Turkey wasn’t being kept out of the loop but had to respect Cyprus’ EEZ.
The Cypriot newspaper said that could be seen as rejecting any idea of working with Turkey on energy, although it could also mean plans for the region just going ahead without Cyprus.
DON’T GET LEFT BEHIND
With Turkey and Israel, being pushed by the US to work together on energy (“It is in our interest,” Nuland told Hurriyet), Cyprus could be left out of energy plans if it does not reach an understanding with Turkey.
“There is the possibility of Cyprus being left out from regional energy cooperation,” Hubert Faustmann, Professor of History and Political Science at the University of Nicosia, told the paper.
“The war in Ukraine has caused all certainties to go out the window and with everything in chaos there is pressure to act,” said Faustmann, who argued that in the new world environment everyone was talking
“There is pressure for a constructive move, and cooperation,” he said. The possibility of energy cooperation without a settlement of the Cyprus problem could not be ruled out, especially if Cyprus didn’t want to miss the energy train.
Government sources not named told the paper that Anastasiades isn’t eager to cooperate with Turkey over energy, his earlier proposal to share 30 percent of potentially lucrative energy reserves with Turkish-Cypriots making up less than 20 percent of the population being rejected.
Nuland said that, “We are focused on (energy) projects that can deliver now for Cyprus, both in the south and in the north, for Europe, for all of the countries of this neighborhood,” with is seen as including Turkey.
The Cypriot paper warned said that has brought ominous signs for Anastasiades who could be faced with the prospect of working with Turkey or see Cyprus excluded from regional energy plans being drawn up by the US.
Before Nuland’s visit to Cyprus there was talk she might push for a restart of reunification talks on the island although hardline Turkish-Cypriot leder Ersin Tatar has rejected the idea and insisted on the UN and world recognizing the isolated occupied territory only Turkey accepts.
Without referring to the visit, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told state radio “tectonic changes taking place with regard to international relations, foreign policy and everyone’s role are conducive to the pursuit of a Cyprus settlement.”
Given the big changes taking place in the world, Kasoulides said he believed that it was time for certain issues, which were considered of “secondary importance by the international community,” the Cypriot newspaper also said.
These issues “could not be left to get in the way of bigger developments that have to do with the relations of the European Union with Turkey, with the United States and north Atlantic alliance,” he said.
The report said Nuland didn’t seem concerned about setting the Cyprus division issue when answering questions from reporters after meeting Anastasiades and spoke only in diplomatic platitudes to avoid being specific.
The US was committed to supporting confidence building measures, she said, in reference to proposals from Anastasiades, “but primarily this is an opportunity to hear whether there are convergences of views we can build on,” she said, a tactic that’s failed for decades.
The impression given was the Cyprus problem could wait, because the priority for the US was energy and signs that Turkey has seized the moment and set aside talk of finding a solution to the island’s division, even in its favor.