10° Nicosia,
25 March, 2019

There is nothing natural about gas debate

A discussion unlike others in the past

Michalis Tsikalas

Michalis Tsikalas

The situation on the Cyprus problem has evolved into a set of prerequisites regarding natural gas. And it’s like this because, despite the Crans-Montana ship wreck, something has come out of it. That is the progress called the "Gutteres framework" which is the basis on which peace talks will continue, if and when. It is 50-50 whether the Turkish Cypriot side still wants it, and Turkey, at least initially, has denounced it completely.

But even so, no references are made regarding the management of natural gas in Cyprus, while territory, property, security, army, and effective participation, all are present in the framework. After the exploration surveys moved forward in the Cypriot EEZ and especially when data became available, Turkey went back to 2011 and now reiterates what it used to say about the "Aphrodite" gas field.

The entire process spiralled and the arguments have since "matured" up until today with the rights of Turkish Cypriots to natural gas been stuck onto the Cyprus problem, as regards Turkey, in yet another package of issues that leads to a repackaging of the next, all encompassing, final objective. And so we will march into the next conference, with Turkey wanting all issues to remain open on one axis, itself being prepared to give very little but ready to take a lot more. Let’s face it, there’s no intelligent diplomat who believes Turkey is keen on preserving the rights of T/C when it comes to natural gas.

So, Turkey wants to move from being an invader to being a co-manager, under new terms which will make her a “player” in an area of the Mediterranean where it has no presence, amongst countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, and others who cooperate with Cyprus. 

The Christofias-Talat convergence was left behind by design, as it defined all things about natural gas at the federal level, without including Turkey in the equation

So, what’s the benefit? Most probably the passing of a pipeline through Turkey, transporting Cypriot gas into to the EU, where Turkey will try to strike a deal with Russia since nobody from the international players would ever want to be the one, if we ever get to that point, to say ‘no’ to a solution of the Cyprus problem under these circumstances. This is how the Christofias-Talat convergence has been left behind by design, as it is no longer beneficial because it defined all things about natural gas at the federal level, without including Turkey into the equation.

And so, with the UNSG getting ready for the next move, the dilemma that will be put before us regarding the Cyprus problem will have nothing to do with internal aspects of the conflict. Because solutions will be found for these. The dilemma in fact will be about guarantees and security in relation to the natural gas, since this is what Turkey now wants in order to consolidate its presence in Cyprus, in multiple ways. And this didn’t just begin now, but as we said, it goes back to 2011. The question is how this Turkish approach was handled so far and how it will be managed when we find ourselves again in some lounge hall in Geneva talking about our future.

Will we also consider, for the sake of dialogue, that the Christofias-Talat convergence is null and void and start a new dialogue on the issue? There could be such pressure, since in the world of diplomacy conferences on Cyprus cannot be a repetition of calendar events without a result, and so we could be forced to do this too.

But our side considers the matter agreed to and closed.

And yet, as you can appreciate, there are many interests at stake, of multiple colours since we are dealing with flags, and so there will definitely be a discussion on gas. And even if we are talking about something found in nature… I expect this discussion to be anything but natural.

And there will be a role for the EU too. After all, the European EEZ on either side wants to cut its dependence on Russia, as much as possible. As future revenue would fund the solution, we are talking about a difficult equation where we must think out every single detail…

Cyprus  |  Turkey  |  gas  |  EEZ  |  peace talks  |  UN  |  pipeline

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