A new round of geopolitical poker is due to be played out in the Eastern Mediterranean in the coming weeks. Ankara does not seem prepared to back down in regards to Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and it looks like Turkey will continue its forays in the region. Decision-makers in Nicosia are keeping a cool head but know that the worst is yet to come. Cyprus is fortunate to have an experienced foreign minister who combines realism with decisiveness, as well as younger, clear-thinking diplomats.
Extra caution is needed in the case of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, given that his arrogance has reached new heights, but he doesn’t seem to have much success on the foreign affairs front. Anything concerning Cyprus puts him on edge. Greece and Cyprus’s overture to Egypt is a red flag for Erdogan. Israeli relations are another headache for the Turkish president after he torpedoed a close strategic relationship that took decades to develop.
The question is: how far can Erdogan go and who could stop him? US President Barack Obama’s relationship with the Turkish leader could not be described as good.Nevertheless, despite his annoyance with regard to Turkish games in Syria, among others, Obama feels that he needs Ankara given developments in the broader region. In the past, when a crisis erupted in the Eastern Mediterranean or the Aegean we knew that the White House would intervene and Ankara would take the transatlantic conversation seriously. Nowadays we are less certain of the latter.
Meanwhile, it is doubtful that Europe will intervene in any decisive way. At the last EU summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that every country is entitled to its EEZ but beyond that there was no indication of real support such as that extended to Ukraine. NATO is another factor to consider with its secretary general maintaining the middle ground. But what will happen if Ankara escalates the tension further? There are those who believe that Israel will intervene, though Turkey-Israel observers believe it highly unlikely unless Turkey threatens Israeli interests directly.
Greece is doing the right thing by conducting behind-the-scenes and public diplomatic moves, supporting Cyprus while keeping its own interests as its top priority.
The most likely scenario is that Turkey will continue exerting pressure until the end of the year in a bid to force a solution on the Cyprus issue as well as on the division of energy reserves. Whether or not it succeeds will depend on the pressure exerted by Washington, Berlin, Brussels and other decision-making centers. Initial signs have not been very encouraging. This is why Greece and Cyprus have no choice but to continue lobbying. The paradox is that although Turkey and Erdogan are clearly not strategic partners of Western powers, the latter’s leaders are hesitating to reach a decision.