By: Daniel Mengisteab
In 2011 the discovery of a substantial natural gas reserve off the coast of Cyprus was thought to have brought renewed hope in the reunification of the island of Cyprus as well as Turkey’s ascension into the European Union. However the Republic of Cyprus canceled all talks in October 2014 as the parties involved couldn’t be further apart.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is only formally recognized by Turkey, insisted that they too have rights to the reserve. Turkey dispatched a research vessel accompanied by navy warships in the Republic of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in an effort to prevent any drilling until a deal has been made. Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus nor their jurisdiction over the reserve.
Turkey’s ‘provocative actions,’ are what led to the Greek Cypriots canceling all talks and instead moving to gather support from other nations in the region. The gas reserve also falls within Israeli jurisdiction, leading Israel to condemn Ankara’s infringement on Cyprus’ rights.
It is estimated that there are up to 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Cypriot jurisdiction and up to 21 trillion cubic feet in Israeli jurisdiction. Given the rising energy needs in Europe as well as the recent economic struggles of the Republic of Cyprus, it is no wonder why the stakes are so high. Turkey’s research vessel and naval ships were scheduled to leave the area on December 30th and did so for a brief period. During this period, representatives of the UN attempted to bring all the parties back to the negotiating table, with President Anastasiades publicly raising the possibility of negotiating the proceeds of the natural gas with the Turkish Cypriots.
This mild concession was only meet with a new directive from Ankara for the Turkish Vessels to remain until April 6th. Since the return of Turkish vessels in Cyprus’ EEZ, the UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide has admitted that “right now there are no prospects for an immediate meeting and I think that will be the [case] for quite a while.”
Turkey’s willingness to play a zero-sum game in the negotiation process has destroyed all hope of bringing the 30+ yearlong Cyprus dispute to an end any time soon. Despite the complex scenario, the appropriate deal would see all parties benefit. It will be interesting to see how Turkey will handle the situation after April 6th when the Turkish vessels are scheduled to leave again.
Daniel Mengisteab is a Master’s Degree candidate at Penn State’s School of International Affairs and a Resident Student Blogger for the Journal of Law and International Affairs at Penn State Law.