With the Russian invasion of Ukraine in full swing, the geopolitical landscape has completely changed, as have the EU’s priorities and its relations with other countries.
To discuss all this, and the new initiatives on the ongoing dispute between Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the north, known as the “Cyprus problem”, Euronews spoke to the new president of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides, during his first visit to Brussels as president, for the EU summit.
“The Cyprus Problem”
On his trip to the EU capital as President of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides came armed with a concrete proposal for a more active role for the European Union in solving the Cyprus problem.
But given that the dialogue between Cyprus and Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots has been frozen for the last six years, and given that Turkey is currently further than ever from the European Union, what does Nikos Christodoulides expect, and what can the European Union achieve that he couldn’t after all these years?
“When we start an attempt to solve the Cyprus problem, we should always take into account the international situation. It is not ourselves who influence international developments, we are actually influenced by international developments.
“And what is the current situation? The current situation is that we have an illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine and we have a European Union, which, yes, is paying the price for its decisions which are absolutely correct and we agree and participate in the decision-making process, but developing a leading role, also taking into account the effects of this Russian invasion on other actors in the international system. This is the first dimension: a leading role on behalf of the European Union in a crisis on the European continent.
“The second dimension is the election of a new president of the Republic of Cyprus. The third dimension concerns the elections in Turkey. We have a period until the elections in Turkey, which we should take advantage of, so that the dialogue can be resumed.”
Upcoming elections in Turkey
With the Turkish presidential election scheduled for May, Euronews asked the Cypriot president what changes he envisages, in the event that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is re-elected, or if the leader of the main opposition, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, becomes Turkey’s next president.
“I absolutely do not expect radical changes in Turkish foreign policy. At least this is what the history of Turkish foreign policy shows over time. But the election of a new president, whether it is Erdogan or the leader of the current opposition, still brings with it a new situation “, Christodoulides explained.
“And, I repeat, the important thing is to take advantage of this period, and that is what we have agreed with the three presidents of the EU institutions, to create the conditions immediately after the elections in Turkey, to resume the talks on the basis of the agreed framework. Because more than anyone else we want an end to the occupation and the reunification of our homeland,” he added.
How does Christodoulides propose that the EU tackle the ‘Cyprus problem’?
Given that the Cypriot president wants the EU institutions to take the lead in dealing with the tensions in Cyprus, Euronews asked Nikos Christodoulides if he sees this putting the Cyprus problem in the context of EU-Turkey relations.
“There are two aspects to our proposal. The first is about the need to break the deadlock. We are not in the talks yet, but the first attempt is about breaking the deadlock to get the talks back on track. Here we need the European Union’s leading commitment.
“But always in the context of the UN. We are not trying to take the Cyprus issue away from the UN. On the contrary, the UN and the framework of the resolutions are our safeguards in pursuit of our goal.
“But to break the deadlock, we believe that the European Union, through the appointment of a political officer, through the action of the institutions, can support us to achieve this goal. And this is the first aspect of our proposal, that is what we focus on and aim to achieve immediately after the elections in Turkey.
“With the resumption of the dialogue comes the second part of the proposal. A very specific aspect of our proposal is the technocratic support for the talks as soon as they resume.”
Cyprus’ historical ties with Russia
The Republic of Cyprus has historically had very good relations and strong ties with Russia in the past. Indeed, many aspects of this were heavily criticized by Europe. But where do the relations between the two countries stand today?
“Yes, there were historically strong ties with the Russian Federation, especially at the people’s level of the two countries. There was also an important dimension regarding the Cyprus issue and the fact that the Russian Federation is a permanent member of the Security Council, but the reality today is clearly different.
“The Republic of Cyprus will in no way escape the unanimous decision of the European Union, in which I repeat, we also participate,” the Cypriot president said.
Does Cyprus support EU sanctions against Russia?
“Sanctions are a tool that is rightly used by the European Union. Where we may have a problem is the implementation of sanctions, not only by the Member States, but also by all those who are connected in one way or another to the European Union.
Asked to clarify his position on the sanctions, Christodoulides told Euronews, “Of course (I support them)”
Eastern Mediterranean: An alternative to Russian energy?
As Europe looks to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, Euronews asked Nikos Christodoulides what role Cyprus could play in this and if he has seen any increased interest from the European Union in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“There is interest. There is an interest that has been expressed before we took over the government of the country. We have previously had some interest. I want to say things as they are, and there is this view of the famous gas corridor in the Eastern Mediterranean, through a leading role for the European Union and cooperation between the countries in the region.
“Yes, the Eastern Mediterranean can be developed as an alternative energy corridor for the European Union. In fact, according to estimates by experts who know this matter better than I do, the Eastern Mediterranean can cover up to 15% to 16% of the European Union’s needs in the coming years 25 years.”
“We have found gas and there are ongoing activities from companies located in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus.
“This is an issue that we discussed with the Council of Ministers, especially with the Minister of Energy about the need to go public after consultation with companies, tell the truth to the people.
This gas will be used for the exact time period. Until then, we will move on to the development stage, because what worries me is that in 5-10 years, in the context of the green transition, these reserves may not be in a position to be used.”