It has been 12 years since the last attempt for a solution to the Cyprus dispute. This time the President of the Republic of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades and the Turkish Cypriot community leader Mr. Mustafa Akinci are trying once again to bridge the distance that separates the two sides. But with their whole neighborhood up in flames as a background, this task looks as difficult as ever.
By Panagiotis Karampelas*
The history behind this dispute is well documented and repeating it wouldn’t help this analysis. In brief, the Cyprus dispute in its current form was shaped after the Turkish invasion in 1974. Since then the northern 36% of the island is occupied by Turkey, where in 1983 the Turkish Cypriot community unilaterally formed the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”. Since then there was a number of initiatives taken by mainly the UN, notably in the early ‘90s the “Set of Ideas” initiated by the then UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar and concluded by his successor Boutros Boutros-Ghali with no success.
In 2004 the Republic of Cyprus became a member of the EU and in the same year the “Annan Plan”, as it remained known, was rejected by 75,83% of the Greek Cypriots. Since then, an interesting development took place: natural gas was discovered inside the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Republic of Cyprus. The prospect of economic growth mobilized all key international players and in 2014 a new series of negotiations begun.
However, the unsuccessful coup d’état in Turkey as well as the ongoing war in Syria and Iraq against the IS, has increased the need of a closer look on the risks involved in the Cyprus dispute, as one new problem in that area may be one too many…
What has happened so far?
In February 2014 President Nicos Anastasiades and the then Turkish Cypriot community leader Mr. Derviş Eroğlu agreed on a Joint Declaration that was to be the foundation of the new negotiations. These started on the May 15, 2014 with Mr. Mustafa Akinci on the Turkish Cypriot side, after he replaced Eroglu as a leader of his community. Although the hopes were high and there was significant progress in most chapters, with both sides talking about a referendum even as early as 2015, the process slowed down as disagreements started to surface. What became apparent quite early was that Akinci wouldn’t be able to plan the Turkish Cypriot negotiating strategy without the consent of Ankara.
As 2015 saw limited progress, the referendum was pushed forward for 2016. Due to many leaks over what was being discussed so far and the heated statements by the political opposition on both parts of the island, the two sides decided not to openly disclose any new information, but instead to keep updated only the political parties with the condition that there will be an embargo to the press.
The positions of each side
As the months went by, what became obvious in 2016 is that if the negotiations are to fail it will be due to the disagreements on the chapters of Security and Guarantees.
So far, the Greek Cypriot’s main positions are:
- No Turkish forces on the island after the solution. It is absurd for a free independent western country and a member of the EU to have foreign troops on its territory.
- They do not agree with the current status quo of the guarantees (Greek, Turkish, UK) or any version of it, with the above argument applying here as well.
- They reject a two-step solution. To them there is the danger of that intermediate period being prolonged well into the future, turning that first step into a new status quo, different from the one that will be agreed upon. Instead they prefer a clear-cut solution, effective immediately after a positive outcome of the referendum.
The Turkish Cypriot side’s main positions are:
- They want the guarantee of Turkey, even if Greece and the UK refuse to renew their role as guarantors. They have made quite clear the fact that they consider Turkey as the only country that can help or support them. This, however, means that Turkey will be guaranteeing only the Turkish Cypriot side unlike the provisions of Cyprus’ first Constitution of 1960, where the guarantees were applying on all of country. Even so, Turkey used that provision as an excuse for the 1974 invasion. If the current position of the Turkish side is accepted, such an intervention could, at least theoretically, be even easier.
- They want a Turkish military presence of around 25% of the current force, for a so far undisclosed period.
- They openly do not want an intermediate period, however, with the above positions regarding the Turkish military presence they indirectly leave this option quite open.
- They want a rotating presidency system which, along with other administrative provisions, indirectly change the agreed position of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation to that closer to a “confederation”, something rejected by the Greek side.
Until now and based on the limited flow of information so far, there seems to be an agreement on most chapters. For example, 30%-50% of government and public sector positions will be occupied by Turkish Cypriots and the 90.000 settlers from Turkey will remain, some with the Cypriot nationality and some with a “Green Card” status. The agreement on these issues caused some serious reactions from the Greek Cypriot opposition, based on the fact that the Turkish minority which represents approximately 18% of the total population of the island, will have a disproportionately larger representation in the government, and the fact that the legalization of the settlers will practically legalize the actual results of the invasion.
The international players
An important factor on these negotiations is the international community and especially these countries that have interests in the wider area of the Eastern Mediterranean.
For the UK it is imperative that the solution will not affect the status of their sovereign bases on the island. They seem to have accepted the return of some non-military areas surrounding the bases to the Greek Cypriot side.
The EU supports the negotiations and agrees with the Greek Cypriot position that any solution must be in accordance with the Acquis Communautaire.
The USA want a solution but things are vague after Donald Trump won the elections. They are looking forward to a solution as there is American interest in the development of the energy opportunities in the area.
Israel wants a solution more than any other international key player, as it will be a major boost for the exploitation of their huge energy resources. Although it seems they have improved their relations with Turkey, Israel has increasingly good relations with both Greece and Cyprus.
Russia has only made some statements of support to the negotiating procedure. They have interests on the island and an alteration of today’s status quo in combination with the changes in Syria could mean that Russia may somewhat be blocked out from the Eastern Mediterranean. The sudden improvement of the Russia-Turkey relations is not expected to alter Moscow’s position towards any direction, since they have deep relations with Greece and Cyprus too.
Risk analysis: 2017 and beyond
But what are the possible outcomes and problems? One scenario is an agreement on a non-viable solution.
The non-viable solution case
A non-viable solution is very possible if only we take under consideration the following undisputed fact:
Realistically, the Turkish side is not going to agree on any solution that does not secure for them, at least, what they have “conquered” (metaphorically as well as literally) and what will bring them closer to their final objective, which is the inclusion of Cyprus under their sphere of influence on absolute terms. After the Turkish invasion and their military loses, the long lasting patience they demonstrated for decades against the international community’s outcry and the isolation of the occupied territories, the more than 30 UN Resolutions condemning their actions, it is extremely naive and dangerous now that the international community seems…“tired” and begun to see them as an equal in this dispute instead of the aggressor, indeed now that new opportunities arise on the energy sector, to expect from them that they will retreat and following the “Gandhi Effect” say: “We will cease to be involved in the internal affairs of Cyprus and we will leave the two communities in peace to march hand-in-hand into the future they will decide for themselves…”
Turkey’s involvement in the negotiations is obvious so far. It is hence quite clear that this influence will continue to be present after a possible solution via the Turkish Cypriot state. This is a problem the EU experienced very recently with the French-speaking region of Wallonia in Belgium, that threatened to block the CETA agreement altogether. Through the Turkish Cypriots, Turkey, a non-EU member, will be able to affect and possibly block future EU decisions, bringing the EU in uncharted waters. The same influence will be present even more vividly in the internal affairs of Cyprus.
It will be quite easy for the post-solution Cyprus to collapse as a country. This is exactly what happened with the 1960 Constitution. The Turkish Cypriot side blocked on technicalities the government decisions, by abusing the legislative veto system, to that extend that President Makarios was forced to try and change those chapters of the Constitution that caused the problem (the “thirteen-point proposal”), which in turn lead to the 1963 eruption of violence. Very similar ideas are being discussed again right now. The central federal government of a post-solution Cyprus, with the dysfunctional provisions described in the 2014 Joint Declaration and from what has leaked from the negotiations, is running the risk of turning into a teacher trying to maintain order in an out of control classroom, where no pupil is listening to him and no one respects him…
And what will happen if the solution collapses? In which form or status quo will the island come back to? What is going to happen with the people and their properties on both states? Are there going to be sectors (Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot) or borders? The reality is that the situation will be so chaotic that no one can really answer these questions… Turkey’s recent aggressive past can only cause even more concern.
Moreover, the problem will be exported all the way to Brussels, since a member state will -for the first time in EU history- almost, if not precisely, be a failed state.
The “no solution” case
The possibility of the negotiations failing without reaching the referendum stage is the one most likely to happen. The reason for this is, as stated earlier, the big distance dividing the two negotiating sides on the chapters of Security and Guarantees. Both sides have invested so much on their completely opposite positions that it will be almost impossible to withdraw from them without causing a severe outcry and turmoil in their interior, that will in turn condemn a referendum should that take place with such provisions included. This applies especially for the Greek Cypriot side, as the public feeling so far is that there have been way too many compromises already on the other chapters.
What is going to take place after a possible collapse of the negotiations? There are two possibilities:
- The dispute will continue to exist unresolved with the current status quo and with both sides waiting for another possible future initiative. This scenario is not very likely to happen, as the international key players do not seem willing to wait indefinitely, given the business opportunities that have appeared in the region.
- The most likely scenario that may take place even as soon as 2017, is the permanent partition of the island and the possible incorporation of the occupied territories to Turkey, if not immediately, perhaps sometime until the beginning of the next decade. A similar move from the Greek side cannot be excluded, but given the economic state of both Greece and Cyprus it is not very likely to happen. In any of these cases a mutual recognition does not seem probable.
A permanent partition, however, is not so desirable for Turkey, as it leaves outside of the territories they control, areas with great potential value including the newly discovered hydrocarbons inside Cyprus’ EEZ.
Hence, after a possible partition:
- Either Turkey will try to freeze all relevant drilling activities by Cyprus, possibly with a crisis/military incident or a similar threat, something that the international community will not be willing to accept easily,
- Or Turkey will try, probably with some provocation as an excuse, to give a final military solution to the Cyprus dispute, with a new Attila As much as such a decision may still not be a probable option for Turkey, the way Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been behaving after the failed coup d’état and the rhetoric he uses, gives more chances to this option compared with the recent past (i.e. the 1997 S-300 crisis).
What is most likely to happen, however, is option (A) because:
- Turkey has already too many serious open fronts (Syria, Iraq, PKK in its interior).
- The Turkish Armed Forces were hit really hard during the crack down that followed the failed coup d’état.
- A possible new invasion in Cyprus would have as a result a confrontation with Greece, that will rapidly climax to total war, which combined with (1) & (2) and regardless of the Greek economic crisis, would cause tremendous casualties for Turkey as well as a drastic limitation of the expected benefits of the whole effort, not so much on the Cyprus front, as instead on the final total expected strategic outcome.
- Given the fact that the Turkish government has been providing lately the international community with numerous reasons to condemn them for a series of decisions regarding both their interior affairs and their foreign relations, it is quite doubtful if such an aggressive action against a seemingly weak Cyprus would serve their overall interests. Such an attack would be extremely difficult to be justified and explained not only abroad but also inside their country. A significant damage could also come from the quite possible further deterioration of both the US-Turkey relations as well as their relations with Russia, which Ankara has been using as leverage against the West.
What seems as the most likely scenario for 2017 and on, is that the negotiations will fail or if they push for a referendum, it will be rejected most probably by the Greek Cypriot side. This will have as a quite possible result, initially, the unilateral permanent partition of the island, with the incorporation of the occupied territories to Turkey on a second stage. Turkey will try -probably successfully- to block all drilling activities by Cyprus by the threat of use of force.
* Panagiotis Karampelas is a Strategic & Political analyst.