Cyprus, Turkey and hydrocarbon politics

Recently the Republic of Cyprus celebrated its 51st year of independence from Great Britain. In celebration the government organized official ceremonies and military parades. These were attended by a host of foreign dignitaries, including representatives from Greece and Russia. In addition to the official celebrations AKEL, Cyprus' Communist Party and the party of the current President of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, organized its own mass mobilizations to mark the event and to demonstrate its firm support for the measures of the Christofias government.

While the anniversary of independence would in itself be cause for a national celebration this year's celebration has a larger significance. This is because this year, the anniversary coincides with the start of drilling for natural gas and possible other hydrocarbons in Cypriot waters beneath the Mediterranean. This activity is being carried out in concert with the U.S. based company Nobel Energy. The importance of this discovery cannot be overstated. Sources call it the most significant geostrategic development in the region since the NATO instigated right-wing coup and subsequent Turkish invasion of the island in 1974. As might be expected, certain circles in Turkey are greatly concerned over the prospect of the transformation of Cyprus into a regional energy center.

Among Turkey's claims is that any natural gas extraction would make negotiations to resolve the Turkish occupation of one-third of Cyprus more difficult. It is hard to come up with any rational basis for this claim, and Turkey has not tried to provide one. In fact Cypriot Present Christofias has expressed the belief that this new hydrocarbon wealth will serve as a powerful impetus to the reunification of the country. In partial response Turkey has pushed through an "agreement" with its proxy pseudo-state in the north of Cyprus to allow Turkey to conduct its own explorations in waters between Northern Cyprus and Turkey.

In addition, Turkey has issued a variety of non-specific threats and is currently conducting naval exercises near the area that is the main focus of the current activities. It has also turned up the heat on Greece over a dispute involving sea boundaries.

Commentators believe that these threats are little more then bluster since Cyprus's activities are fully protected by international law and are being carried out within its exclusive economic zone.

Recently the Russian ambassador to Cyprus has reiterated his nation's support for Cyprus's rights, under international law, to exploit the mineral wealth lying beneath its territorial waters. Perhaps affirming this support are reports that Russian naval forces are present in the Mediterranean near Cyprus although this is denied by the Russian ambassador.

In addition to developing its own energy resources Cyprus has signed agreements to transfer Israeli natural gas to Europe. Interests from the EU, Israel and Russia are all clamoring to invest in various aspects of the Cypriot hydrocarbon sector. Thus, the European allies of the U.S., Israel and a U.S.-based company seem to be potentially lining upon the side of Cyprus against Turkish provocations. Turkey runs the risk of antagonizing the U.S. In this light some say Turkey's provocative actions around Cyprus may represent its frustration that it can do nothing of substance to prevent Cyprus's development as an independent energy power.