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CYPRUS: Ugly sisters and the Spanish Armada

12 May, 2019 | Posted By: Charlie Charalambous

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Spanish Armada had reinvented itself to invade the shores of Cyprus in search of untold Mediterranean riches with a mission to enslave the local population as Empire builders went to work.


That’s the thing with bully’s, they will deliberately pick on weedy and vulnerable targets knowing they can steal your belongings without much fuss or fanfare.

This being Cyprus, and several centuries since the Spanish fleet was sunk by the English, the enemy at our shores was a Turkish drillship, survey vessel and frigate splashing around in the island’s EEZ.

As Ankara is a great believer in gunboat diplomacy, especially against small islands that don’t have a navy or an air force, it bravely strode into Cyprus territory knowing the only defence it could muster would be a few protest letters.

This is the psychology of a regional bully who knows that running roughshod over international law has no consequences against the defenceless.  

It can flex its muscle and say what it likes, laying claim to the whole region as it neither recognises the Republic of Cyprus nor the right of Greek islands to have a maritime border.

Even if Turkey doesn’t want to drill for gas off Cyprus, all it has to do is pretend that it wants to, knowing it will create panic in Nicosia and cause tension-raising instability ensuring second thoughts among those supporting the Cypriot government’s energy quest.

Erdogan is content to shut out the noise coming from Washington and Brussels about Turkey’s “unacceptable behaviour” because the archetypal strongman of the East Med is making up the rules as he goes along.

He is unpredictable and belligerent for the simple reason that he can be, in the knowledge that nobody is going to stand up to Turkey to defend tiny Cyprus on a matter of principle.

Turkey’s move into Cyprus waters triggered a circus act in Nicosia where everyone jumped through political hoops to roundup international leaders who would condemn Ankara’s act of aggression.

The United States and European Union expressed deep concern over Turkey’s plans for offshore drilling operations in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.

EU leaders in Romania told Turkey to respect EU member state Cyprus – which is nice to hear but a bit rich as Brussels doesn’t seem too bothered that Turkey does not recognize the Republic and has no normal diplomatic relations with Nicosia.

Of course, there are European elections coming up and the bloc must behave as one big unified family that treats each member equally which, naturally, extends to any outside threats.

Once the dust settles, Cyprus will start finding out who its friends are, most of them will be standing at the back of the class trying not to be noticed.

Certainly, those that have a say in regional wealth and security such as Washington and the Israelis will offer some sense of protection for Cyprus, but will these countries stand up and be counted when the going gets tough.

Turkey has been urged to show restraint, respect international law and the sovereign rights of Cyprus. Well, why should it?

It doesn’t view Cyprus as a proper country, while it regularly violates the airspace and territorial waters of another EU country it does recognize -- Greece.

Erdogan said he expects NATO to support Turkey’s rights in the Mediterranean, while Ankara brushed aside condemnation and the threat of sanctions, saying it will continue to do as it pleased in Cyprus.

Turkey argues it is protecting the rights of the Turkish Cypriots as they are being denied a share of the island’s energy wealth.

True or not, this is a pretext for Ankara to control the region and stake a claim in the energy bonanza that the East Med has the potential to realise.

It’s the smell of money that has Turkey sniffing around the island, this is also the motivator driving Israel, the US, Egypt and the EU to stick their weight behind Cyprus.

The Cyprus government purposely pursued a vigorous energy exploration and exploitation policy to make itself noticed in regional political alliances and decision-making centres.

Gas-rich Cyprus would have a voice in maybe charting its own destiny rather than being pushed around like the ugly sister at the school disco.

Nevertheless, this calculated risk of getting involved in East Med politics could eventually see it become a spare tyre in a much larger end game where old foes and new friends seek to settle scores in a bid to strike it rich.

This is not the Eurovision where no matter how bad the song, there is always the next time, playing with the big boys and calling Turkey’s bluff doesn’t always end well.

Especially with Erdogan trying to fix things at home, what better than to make positive headlines at the expense of Cyprus.