Turkey asked to be newest member of East Med energy society
Here’s a question you might want to ask down at the pub quiz on a Sunday night after the clever clogs have tried to bamboozle you with classical history and the names of extinct species.
Well, when I say question – there is no proper answer because the outcome has many variables attached as it has to do with Cyprus.
So, do you think we would be nearer to solving the Cyprus problem if there were no offshore oil and gas riches? Think about it, and no conferring.
Without potential energy wealth to boost the island’s strategic position to play the regional cooperation and stability card, where would Cyprus be?
More significantly, is the energy gambit distracting the government’s focus on resuming peace talks and entering the end game for a federal solution?
Cyprus has put its big boots on to play regional dealmaker in the East Med and enjoyed the limelight as it seeks a special relationship with Israel, Egypt, Greece and, more importantly, the US.
Okay, Nicosia maybe doing this through selfpreservation, believing that if it becomes friends of the region’s major players, then the less likely it is to be bullied by Turkey and pushed around in the Med.
Of course, Egypt, Israel and Greece are not all buddybuddy for the sake of peace, friendship and cross-cultural tolerance – there is business to be done.
Working together to exploit East Med oil and gas makes more financial sense than going it alone because there are pipelines to be built and deals to be dome with international conglomerates.
There is just one tiny snag – Turkey doesn’t like what’s going on and has claimed most of the sea territory around Cyprus and Greece as part of its own continental shelf.
To add some more spice to the ocean waves it has acquired its own drillship and sent it to explore for hydrocarbons in the sea area between Cyprus and Turkey.
While Ankara has quickly decided it wants a share of the black stuff, it has nonchalantly issued threats left, right and centre against any international company that wants to explore and exploit energy wealth offshore Cyprus.
Aware that it couldn’t go it alone, Cyprus ensured it attracted big companies with plenty of clout to tap those resources hidden beneath the sea.
Turkey had no qualms in messing with the Italians in February when ENI tried to do some drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ, but will it be so gung-ho when the Americans – in the shape of ExxonMobil – come sniffing around for gas in the coming weeks?
There is a lot of money at stake and the energy/security interests of world superpower the US and heavyweight countries like France, Egypt and Israel.
Turkey doesn’t always act rationally – especially when Cyprus is involved – so there is no excluding the possibility it could chuck all its toys out the pram.
Faced with a belligerent Ankara that likes to throw diplomatic punches wrapped in glass, Nicosia has started to take a different tact.
At the Economist summit, President Anastasiades and Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides urged Turkey to join the East Med energy exploration club but leave its weapons at the door.
In this age of inclusivity, Cyprus is offering an olive branch to Turkey to be part of the group that has plenty of deals to go around – this is business, not personal.
It was made clear that Turkey has much more to lose than gain by being a spoiler to regional cooperation and untold riches.
There are just a couple of obstacles that Turkey needs to navigate before Cyprus allows executive sauna and jacuzzi.
Ankara must single-handedly resolve the island’s division, recognise the Republic of Cyprus, respect international law and basically be nice to everyone – that includes Greece.
Once it has done all these things, it will be invited to come on down and join the energy bonanza that is unfolding before us.
In another nimble piece of diplomacy, the government has painted, in fluorescent marker pen, the message that any attack on Cyprus is also an attack on its neighbours Israel, Egypt and Lebanon as they all have agreed delimitation agreements with Nicosia.
I’m not sure this line of argument will work, as Cyprus is a member of a much larger club called the European Union where this, all-for-one and one-for-all mindset is enshrined in the bloc.
But Brussels is more like the neighbour who prefers to peer through the curtains while the boy next door gets a good kicking and does nothing to stop it.
Cyprus might have convinced itself it is holding all the cards – but none of them are aces.