• Owen Swift

Episode 50. The Splitting of Cyprus: Turkey vs Greece

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Rundown:

Turkey and Greece have been battling each other for influence over the Eastern Mediterranean now for centuries, and nowhere is that struggle more evident than on the island of Cyprus. The island is currently divided into 3 parts, and for decades the conflict has remained stagnant, but will the conflict reignite with the discovery of a range of new gas fields off the coast?

Guests:

Madalina Vicari

  • Geopolitics and Geoeconomics writer for Vocal Europe

  • Specialist in Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean

Andreas Theophanous

  • Head of Politics and Governance at the University of Nicosea

  • President of the Cyprus Centre for European and International Affairs

  • Author of The Intercommunal Negotiations After 1974 and Future Prospects

Matthew Bryza

  • Former US Deputy Ambassador to Azerbaijan

  • Former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia

  • Nonresident Senior Fellow for the Atlantic Council Specialising in Mediterranean States

Robert M Cutler

  • Fellow at NATO Canada

  • Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute

  • Specialist in the energy trade in the Middle East and Europe

Part 1: Rock In The Storm (2:22)

  • Vicari takes us through the fundamentals of Cyprus. First tackling its history, fought over between various empires and nations for centuries.

  • We also look at the demographic divide in the country and the events that precipitated the current standoff. With both populations being further tied to the countries that support them, a solution seems far away.

  • Greece and Turkey have long used the two halves of the island as proxies against each other. We look at this in the context of their on-paper alliance given that both are members of NATO.

  • There is a thin British controlled buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish sides of the island. Vicari helps us to understand how this came about, and the talks organised by the UN that fell through.

  • Finally we look at why the referendum failed in 2004, and what the prospects are for a resolution of this conflict.


Part 2: The Dotted Line (18:08)

  • Located somewhat between Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, Theophanous helps us understand the geopolitical importance of the island of Cyprus for Greece and Turkey, as well as the wider region.

  • We look in-depth at the economic conditions on the island, comparing the differences between the two halves, and the difficulties they have had in access to international finance.

  • The UK's buffer zone has kept the two sides apart for decades. We look at why the UK is so invested in the country, as a guarantor power and being its former owner.

  • The difficult situation that Cyprus finds itself in has lent it to a deeply pragmatic foreign policy on both sides, with no room for ideology or sentiment.

  • We round out by looking at the likelihood that ongoing tensions in the Aegean between Turkey and Greece could spill over into Cyprus, and what that might look like.

Part 3: From Inside The House (26:04)

  • Bryza takes us through how the divide between Greek and Turkish Cypriots began, and why it persists amongst the population today.

  • With both sides so committed to their cause, Bryza looks at the long-term prospects for diplomatic resolutions of the issue, presenting the case for both Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

  • We analyse Greece's claims to maritime territory in the Aegean Sea around its islands. This would massively impact Turkey's ability to use those waters and access the Mediterranean. Some of these islands are far away from Greece's home territories, and much closer to Turkey's. We look at how this impacts tensions between Turkey and Greece, and the impact this may have on the future of Cyprus.

  • We also look at the international involvement in this issue. Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt are involved for economic reasons, and Germany and NATO both have sought to improve relations and the chances for resolution.

  • Byrza also helps us understand what might happen in the case of conflict between the two countries, given both are part of NATO. A recent minor spat over a collision got both NATO leadership and German Chancellor Merkel involved. Given Turkey's vastly superior military to Greece, NATO is likely to continue playing a big role in ensuring tensions don't rise to a dangerous level.

  • Russia also plays a large role in Cyprus, both through investing and money laundering. We look at why Russia is involved in a region so far from its homeland, and the impact of their ongoing force projection efforts in the region.

Part 4: Seeking Aphrodite's Blessing (47:57)

  • With his expertise in the trade, infrastructure and competition for energy in the region, Cutler takes us through the role that the many involved players have in Cyprus, and the different angles they have.

  • We look first at Israel's offshore gas fields in Cyprus, and their partnership with US companies. With the Aphrodite field crossing over multiple country's economic zones, determining the rights and divvying up the profits of any exploitation of this gas is a deeply contentious issue.

  • There have been many claims and threats to build huge gas pipelines in the region. Cutler takes us through why these are unviable and almost certainly will never be built, having never gone any further than the feasibility study stage.

  • We look at the role international law and international tribunals may play. With so many conflicts over Exclusive Economic Zones, exploitation of natural resources, and Cyprus, does international law have a real role to play? And will economic or political issues be the primary driving factors in either the ramping up of tensions or a movement toward resolution?

The Red Line's Cyprus Reading List:

We’ve put together some further reading for those of you looking for more resources to help you get across the geopolitics of Cyprus.


Books:

The Cyprus Problem

James Ker-Lindsay


Cyprus and the Politics of Memory

Rebecca Bryant


Makarios: The Revolutionary Priest of Cyprus

Demetris Assos


Articles/Journals:

For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/theredlinepodcast


This episode is dedicated to Patreon members Chang Ka Shiang, Zeeshan Sayed, and Alex Macdonald.