Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Turkish threat: what now for Greece and Cyprus?

Greece's recent foreign policy has assumed that by supporting Turkey's EU accession process, Turkey would change its aggressive behaviour in the Aegean and realise that a 'solution' to the Cyprus problem was in its own self-interest. Believing that brazen violations of Greek sovereignty and intransigence in Cyprus were a result of the conflict between the conservative Kemalist deep state and the 'reforming' AKP government of prime minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, Greece and Cyprus decided it should come down on the side of Erdogan by not erecting insurmountable obstacles to Turkey's EU aspirations.

This interpretation of Turkish policy to Greece and Cyprus as being divided between hawks and doves and the expectation that Turkey's EU process would work in favour of the doves, has proved flawed. In fact, as the December review of Turkey's EU course approaches, not only has Turkey – a Turkey in which government and and deep state appear united – shown no inclination to alter its expansionist designs against Greece and Cyprus; but it has in fact stepped up its provocations and aggression.

In Cyprus, not only are there reports of huge new mosques and monuments to Mustafa Kemal being erected all over the occupied areas; but as the first round of settlement negotiations between President Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat comes to a close, it is clear that the Turkish side continues to insist on a deal very similar to the partitionist Annan plan and, therefore, there has been zero progress on major issues related to territory, security and rights of refugees, and only limited progress on issues to do with economy and governance.

Indeed, only yesterday, Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davoutoglou threatened that unless a Cyprus 'solution' is reached by the end of the year, then Turkey would consider alternatives to reunification – which can only mean formal annexation of occupied Cyprus or, more likely, an increased effort to seek international recognition of the pseudo-state. In addition, Talat, leader of the pseudo-state, in Turkey this week to take instructions from his masters, emerged to say that he expected the international community to press the Greek side to make concessions and, in particular, to agree to a deadline for the negotiations, after which there should be binding arbitration in an attempt to bridge any outstanding differences, i.e. exactly the same procedure that led to the Annan plan.

Also this week, to demonstrate its determination to maintain its presence and influence in Cyprus, Turkey declared it would not countenance any solution that denied it its status as a 'guarantor' of the island's security, and to prove that it effectively regards Cyprus as an extension of Turkey, the Turkish government also despatched vessels to Cypriot territorial waters to explore for hydrocarbon deposits, declaring: 'Turkey has rights and interests there. Our intention to protect them is known by everyone.'

Vessels from the Turkish Petroleum Corporation will not only explore for oil and gas off Cyprus, but also in Greek territorial waters off Kastellorizo, as part of Turkey's continuing campaign to question Greek sovereignty in the Aegean, which is, of course, what lies behind the daily mass violation of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets.

Turkey's plan isn't to start a war with Greece, but to force Greece to engage in wide-ranging negotiations that would result in the partition of the Aegean. Indeed, this attempt to bully Greece into surrendering sovereignty in the Aegean was clearly articulated this week by the Turkish foreign ministry, which declared that the problems that exist between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean relate to: 'the islands, islets and rocks… not ceded to Greece by international treaties; the decision of Greece to broaden its territorial waters over six nautical miles; continental shelf; air space; the flight information region; and the demilitarization of islands; [and that these problems] can only be solved if they are handled as a whole… [and] by Greece and Turkey sitting down and talking'.

Other than the delimitation of the continental shelf, which Greece says should be resolved through recourse to the International Court of Justice, Greece rejects Turkey's definition of the issues that exist in the Aegean and argues that it cannot accept any invitation to talks that aim to overturn the status quo.

Two questions arise from Turkey's failure to conform to Greek expectations and, during the course of its EU process, give up its hostile intentions towards Greece and Cyprus.

1. Why does Turkey think it can pursue its expansionist designs and bullying tactics against Greece and Cyprus and at the same time maintain its EU accession process? The answer lies in the confidence Turkey must take from its supporters in the EU – particularly Britain and Sweden – who appear determined to protect, without reservation, Turkey's EU aspirations; from America, which continues to talk up Turkey as an emerging 'global' power; and from the confusion and inertia in Greek ranks as to how to respond to Turkey's recidivism.

2. Now that Greece and Cyprus' strategy of dealing with Turkey is unravelling, how will Hellenism respond, particularly with regards to the veto powers it holds over Turkey as it seeks to enter the EU?