Spiderman of the Mediterranean

3 mins read

What was said or disagreed at Crans Montana before the Cyprus peace process collapsed four years ago may never be known, but its consequences linger.

Classified papers have been leaked that seeks to vindicate the Greek Cypriot position that Turkey was being constructively vague about what its true intentions were in withdrawing its occupation troops.

No side will show its hand in any negotiation too soon, while brutal honesty doesn’t put signatures on pieces of paper unless the threats are ugly and unavoidable.

Trying to guess further down the road what Ankara’s end game was or if the car crash could have been avoided is no compensation.

The only real certainty that can be voiced is that Cyprus’ division has deepened, Turkey has become bolder in its threats and political brinkmanship.

It is now an unstoppable force eager to plunder riches in the Eastern Mediterranean, ignoring the parameters of previous UN-led peace talks by claiming a new state of affairs.

Ankara has become what Nicosia feared most, a loose cannon that does as it pleases with no boundaries to its wayward behaviour.

There is no longer the lure of joining the European Union to keep on a narrow and amicable diplomatic path.

Turkey knows that Europe doesn’t want it to join the club and is only useful to Brussels in stemming another migrant crisis or keeping suspect terrorists in camps.

The NATO ally has scorned US weapons systems for Russian influence and is unphased in harassing fellow member Greece when it suits its ‘Turkey first’ agenda.

Cyprus can ill-afford to play a waiting game, even though President Anastasiades believes his EU partners and an East Med alliance will come to the rescue.

If Erdogan is unwilling to budge, all the regional partnerships and pithy EU sanctions will fail to dislodge his belligerence.

Anastasiades is eager to tell us that Brussels is keenly engaged in ensuring Turkey behaves by not sending gunboats into Cyprus waters.

He will wrap Turkey up in so much sticky-web diplomacy to constrain it that Anastasiades will become known as Spiderman of the Mediterranean.

Despite Nicosia’s bravado driven by diplomatic gymnastics, Turkey can see it coming a mile away.

It has no qualms in pressing all the pressure points, the key one being reopening Varosha.

Nothing is more disheartening in Europe’s longest frozen conflict than the fate of this ghost town, where it is increasingly unlikely its 39,000 Greek Cypriot residents will return to their homes.

The once-famous resort had, strangely, been a symbol of hope in its unwanted abandonment.

Surely, the Turkish side had no use for it and was often used as a makeweight to get a Cyprus initiative on the starting blocks.

And so it was the case in the despised Annan Plan, but 17 years on and the tables have been turned.

The Turkish side doesn’t want to give it back; it is reopening the hitherto out-of-bounds military zone for resettlement.

It violates UN resolutions, and international law is the government’s mantra, but being on the right side of legality will not save Varosha.

We thought Turkey would never take it off the bargaining table when declaring Cyprus talks are dead in their current format.

Opening up Varosha is Erdogan’s very public message that the island’s division is too deep to be reunified.

He and Tatar are selling a popular fiction that Cypriots have irreconcilable differences that only a separatist form of apartheid can resolve.

Unaware, Greek Cypriots have sleepwalked into this nightmare reality where the rules of the game have changed.

And the rules will continue to change until there are no rules to speak of.

Cypriot leaders seem to have agreed they no longer have anything to discuss while Varosha is being held to ransom as the Turkish side campaigns for two separate states or no dice.

The UN has proved powerless to cajole or persuade either side to resume reunification talks in this new hostile environment.

Even the much-loved blame game is rendered a futile exercise because the rules of engagement have altered – Turkey is playing a big-picture gambit.

Nicosia has tried to do likewise by bolstering alliances with military clout – a smart move that anyone being bullied would make.

But with international energy companies ready to restart exploratory drills in Cyprus’ EEZ, the possibility of another heated flashpoint with Turkey emerges.

Cyprus is so far from reconciliation; not even an ExxonMobil drillship could find fertile soil for it to grow.

For now, the government is content on spinning the roulette wheel wherever it may land in a casino that Turkey built.