A new crisis for Ankara, Nicosia and Athens

In the last few years of Greece’s military dictatorship, the country was in the grip of a «petroleum dream» but the only thing left of the legendary deposits in the Aegean after the restoration of democracy was an ongoing tension in relations with Turkey. In practical terms, the 1987 crisis led to Greece giving up every right to carry out exploration throughout the Aegean, although the then-government of Andreas Papandreou succeeded in presenting this major concession as something of a victory for Greece. Underwater petroleum reserves are estimated at 6-8 billion barrels south of Cyprus. The agreements undertaken by Nicosia with the governments of Egypt and Lebanon have led to an outbreak of intensely aggressive rhetoric by Ankara – to all concerned – and to movements by Turkish naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean. It is clear that Turkey’s traditional establishment believes that the Cypriot government will give in to the threats, and seek excuses to review its decisions, as Greece has done in the past, and perhaps will be vindicated. What Ankara has not considered is Cyprus’s political emancipation on becoming a full member of the European Union, that is not a country at the mercy of three guarantor powers, and that military action against it would mean Turkey’s complete ostracization by the EU. What worked in the past is no longer viable, unless Ankara wants to sink into the Middle East chaos. Foreign petroleum firms do not appear to be taking Turkish threats into consideration – at least not right now. These developments have clearly embarrassed the Greek Foreign Ministry, particularly Minister Dora Bakoyannis who, while keeping to a policy of «moderation» and a generous desire to display understanding, is faced with Turkey’s increasing refusal to act in a way that is compatible with the European acquis communautaire. An escalation of the conflict with Ankara is naturally not desirable, but current practice involves the risk of Greece’s becoming a bystander to Turkey’s provocations, always showing understanding for its domestic problems and hoping that the parliamentary elections will make Turkey change its behavior. Politicians have a right to be optimistic but persisting with ideas on how another country will act could prove to be painfully naive. Bakoyannis obviously realizes that, but she will have to show it.

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