CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.
Republic of Cyprus pursued initiative to expand EU involvement to reignite talks, while Turkish Cypriots expressed strong opposition; sides continued dialogue under UN auspices.
Republic of Cyprus President Christodoulides advanced proposal for active EU role. After Christodoulides visited Belgian capital Brussels in March to propose greater EU involvement in Cyprus issue, Greek Cypriot FM Kombos 2 April explained country is expecting Turkish Cypriots to make next move. Christodoulides 22 April said “everything depends on how Turkey will act” following elections in May (see Türkiye), adding that Ankara’s post-earthquake steps toward rapprochement with West and regional countries, if continued, would pave way for diplomacy over Cyprus. Meanwhile, Christodoulides 5 April visited Egypt to hold talks with President Sisi on Cyprus issue, bilateral ties and energy, signalling country’s desire to enhance regional engagement.
Turkish Cypriots voiced opposition to Christodoulides’ initiative. After foreign ministry of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in March voiced opposition to EU involvement given bloc’s “partial attitude”, de facto FM Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu 5 April said “TRNC” would review diplomatic status of EU’s office in north as well as relations with bloc given EU has not recognised “TRNC”. After Republic of Cyprus and U.S. late March signed partnership deal for cooperation on maritime security and other issues, “TRNC” 1 April condemned deal, saying it served to strengthen armament of Republic of Cyprus. “TRNC” 8 April condemned U.S. for anchoring attack submarine in Republic of Cyprus; Türkiye next day reiterated calls for U.S. to reconsider policies that disrupt balance on island. “TRNC” 27 April condemned Greek Cypriot navigation advisory for drilling preparations in contested economic zone in eastern Mediterranean. Meanwhile, “TRNC” 1 April deepened cooperation with Türkiye by signing $500mn Financial and Economic Protocol, which includes financial aid as well as funds for new schools, health facilities and national disaster centre.
Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots continued UN-facilitated dialogue. Under auspices of UN peacekeeping force, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot negotiators 11 April met as part of regular dialogue related to bicommunal Technical Committees and issues of shared concern; negotiators 27 April discussed future settlement prospects and Technical Committees.
Republic of Cyprus sought to kickstart moribund dialogue with Turkish Cypriots via greater European Union (EU) involvement, as sides reiterated long-held positions.
Republic of Cyprus began efforts to reignite talks, seeking federation solution. Following his election in Feb, Republic of Cyprus President Christodoulides 22 March travelled to Belgian capital Brussels for European Council Summit where he presented his proposal for more active EU involvement in Cyprus issue to presidents of three main EU institutions and UN Sec-Gen António Guterres. Christodoulides next day remarked that talks should resume “from where they left off in Crans-Montana” and announced that Republic of Cyprus and EU agreed to lay groundwork for resuming dialogue immediately after 14 May Turkish elections (see Türkiye). Earlier, Republic of Cyprus FM Constantinos Kombos 9 March remarked that state “will never accept a divisionary solution or a two-state solution”, and drew attention to Turkish activity in ghost resort town Varosha/Maraş, warning “any development other than the transfer of Varosha under UN administration” would be illegal. Republic of Cyprus Defence Minister Michalis Giorgallas 12 March said Türkiye’s “persistence and expansionist aspirations” are holding back resolution and urged Ankara to demonstrate “required will” for talks. Meanwhile, Christodoulides 10 March pledged to increase military spending to 2% of GDP, citing need to “bolster deterrent capabilities”; pledge followed end of U.S. arms embargo in Sept 2022.
Turkish Cypriots reiterated desire for two-state solution. “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) leader Ersin Tatar 6 March reiterated aim of two-state solution, asserting “TRNC will never accept an agreement that would make the Turkish Cypriot people a minority”. Tatar 15 March stated that he would “never accept the EU becoming involved in the Cyprus issue”. Earlier, Tatar 1 March announced nearly 5,000 Turkish earthquake victims had arrived in “TRNC”, prompting concern among Greek Cypriots about increased population of settlers in north.
Republic of Cyprus elected new president who pledged reunification of island and held first informal meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader.
New Republic of Cyprus president met Turkish Cypriot leader. Former FM Nikos Christodoulides 12 Feb won Greek Cypriot run-off presidential elections against left-wing contender Andreas Mavroyiannis (51.9% to 48.1%). During inauguration speech, Christodoulides remarked “my biggest concern is the end of the Turkish occupation and the reunification of our homeland”, adding “I will do everything to break the deadlock, to restart the dialogue”. In first informal meeting following his election, Christodoulides 23 Feb met Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar in UN buffer zone in Nicosia; after encounter, Tatar said formal return to talks will require recognition of Turkish Cypriot sovereignty, while Christodoulides remarked he did not hear anything unexpected.
Tensions continued between sides prior to presidential poll. Outgoing Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 2 Feb visited Greece, thanking Greek PM Mitsotakis for “support in containing Turkish revisionism”. Turkish FM Fuat Oktay 3 Feb referred to “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” as “Turkish Cypriot Republic”, urged UN Security Council to recognise north as having “equal international status” with Republic of Cyprus; Oktay also claimed UN peacekeeping mission has “no humanitarian, diplomatic, or legal value”. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 4 Feb reiterated “sovereign equality” of “Turkish Cypriot Republic”.
Republic of Cyprus sought German mediation for Cyprus issue amid bleak prospects of resolution, while UN Security Council renewed peacekeeping mandate.
UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres 3 Jan reported to UN Security Council that harsh rhetoric and “a significant hardening of positions” posed obstacle to dialogue and reconciliation between Greek and Turkish Cypriots; UN Security Council 30 Jan renewed UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for one year. Meanwhile, Republic of Cyprus FM Ioannis Kasoulides 10 Jan said he asked Germany to act as mediator on Cyprus question; German FM Annalena Baerbock previous day said that two-state solution “cannot be an option for Cyprus”. Echoing Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar’s 1 Jan remark that “federation talks are over and … two-state politics is settling in”, de facto foreign ministry of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) 13 Jan stated “no common ground” existed between two sides and UN must recognise “current realities on the island”. Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 15 Jan said country will continue to seek “liberation and reunification” of island despite threats and challenges. Türkiye’s VP Fuat Oktay 17 Jan said Türkiye will continue to fight for solution in Cyprus based on sovereign equality of two entities.
Tensions between Republic of Cyprus and Turkish Cypriot leaders persisted.
Disputes over UN peacekeeping force and energy exploration continued. Turkish Cypriot FM Ertuğruloğlu 8 Dec reiterated that “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) will continue to allow UN peacekeeping force “on its territory” only if “mutually acceptable legal arrangement between the two parties” is concluded. Hydrocarbon exploration remained contentious: Republic of Cyprus’s energy ministry 21 Dec announced that consortium of French and Italian energy companies found more natural gas off Cyprus; “TRNC” next day dismissed legitimacy of Republic of Cyprus-claimed Exclusive Economic Zone and asserted exploration activities “coincide with the continental shelf of [Türkiye]”, while Türkiye 23 Dec said Republic of Cyprus’s hydrocarbon activities threatened peace and stability in eastern Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 22 Dec hinted progress on peace settlement may materialise once Turkish President Erdoğan leaves office and next day said “national dignity” cannot accept any solution ensuring permanent presence of Türkiye in Cyprus.
Organization of Turkic States admitted “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) as observer member.
“TRNC” acquired observer status at Organization of Turkic States. Türkiye 11 Nov announced “TRNC” was awarded observer status at Organization of Turkic States, which includes Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Türkiye and Uzbekistan. Republic of Cyprus same day called move “meaningless”, claiming Ankara had to downgrade observer status to “entity” rather than “state” to win support. European Union 12 Nov called move “regrettable”, while U.S. 15 Nov said decision was inconsistent with principles of territorial integrity and UN Charter.
In other important developments. Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders 17-18 Nov met UN Assistant Sec-Gen Miroslav Jenča and peacekeeping head Colin Steward to discuss prospects for progress on Cyprus issue. European Council 8 Nov agreed to extend framework of sanctions (in place since Nov 2019) against Türkiye in response to its “unauthorised drilling activities” in waters around Cyprus until 12 Nov 2023. Meanwhile, following 7 Nov meeting with Republic of Cyprus FM Ioannis Kasoulides, Greece’s FM Nikos Dendias warned “any attempt to create fait accomplis either in Greece or in Cyprus will result in a European response” and noted being “on the verge of resuming talks between Cyprus and Lebanon on the delimitation of an Exclusive Economic Zone”.
Tensions persisted after U.S. lifted arms embargo on Republic of Cyprus last month, while Türkiye and Turkish Cypriots issued ultimatum to UN peacekeeping mission.
Türkiye vowed new weapons for Turkish Cypriots. After U.S. lifted its decades-old arms embargo on Republic of Cyprus on 16 Sept and Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu late Sept vowed to send more weapons to “protect Turkish Cypriots”, Turkish President Erdoğan 7 Oct said Turkish UAVs and combat drones may be sent to region “because we need to secure Northern Cyprus from all sides”; statement came amid reports of potential plan for Türkiye to establish military base in Karpaz peninsula located on northern tip of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”).
Turkish Cypriot leadership made demands to UN peacekeeping force. Turkish Cypriot leadership demanded end to UN’s peacekeeping force deployment in northern Cyprus unless UN signs agreement specifically with “TRNC”; Turkish Cypriot FM Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu 5 Oct said “We decided to give them another month. It is not the Greek Cypriot government that will approve your mission in the north. It is us”; UN military presence in north is enabled by agreement between UN and Greek Cypriot govt.
U.S. lifted decades-old armed embargo on Republic of Cyprus, prompting Turkish condemnation and vow to bolster Turkish military presence on island.Washington announced lifting of long-held arms embargo on Republic of Cyprus. U.S. 16 Sept announced it would fully lift – initially for one year – arms embargo on Republic of Cyprus in place since 1987, saying “Republic of Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation”. In line with U.S. requirements, Republic of Cyprus had put in place in recent years several financial regulatory oversight mechanisms and denied Russian military vessels access to ports, among other conditions.Ankara strongly criticised U.S. and pledged greater military support for Turkish Cypriots. Turkish foreign ministry 16 Sept harshly reacted to U.S. move, saying it would “further strengthen the Greek Cypriot side’s intransigence and negatively affect efforts to resettle the Cyprus issue” as well as “lead to an arms race on the island”. Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 29 Sept said: “We will send more forces there to protect the Turkish Cypriots and we will meet whatever they need in terms of weapons”, while Turkish President Erdoğan same day said Türkiye would reinforce its 40,000 troops on island with additional weapons, ammunition and vehicles. Meanwhile, unconfirmed news reports 20 Sept surfaced that Russia was intending to start direct flights to Ercan airport located in Turkish Cypriot north of island.
Türkiye continued hydrocarbon exploration in undisputed maritime zones north of island, while European energy companies announced major gas discovery south of island. Türkiye 9 Aug dispatched its fifth drillship Abdülhamid Han for hydrocarbon research and drilling in undisputed maritime zones north of Cyprus; Greek Cypriots have been alarmed by prospect of such activities moving into disputed zones. French energy company Total and Italian energy company Eni 22 Aug announced discovery of significant natural gas deposits at Cronos-1 well in Block 6, south of island; preliminary estimates indicate presence of 2.5 trillion cubic feet of gas. Republic of Cyprus energy ministry same day said govt and companies had already begun “processing ways to expedite and optimise use of this new discovery”. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev 9 Aug met with Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar in Türkiye on margins of Islamic Solidarity Games. Meeting drew harsh criticism from Republic of Cyprus officials, who 11 Aug said they were expecting “corrective steps” and threatened to veto Azerbaijan’s bid for partnership deal on energy supplies with EU; Greek Cypriot officials are concerned that such meetings could pave way for political recognition of Turkish Cypriot entity in north.
Republic of Cyprus rejected Turkish Cypriot leader’s proposal to cooperate on energy, resources and other issues, claiming it undermined reunification prospects. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 1 and 8 July presented proposals for cooperation with Greek Cypriots on hydrocarbons, electricity, renewable energy, water, demining and irregular migration. Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 20 July rejected proposals, claiming they point toward creation of two states and not reunification, but said his administration would still be open to discuss them on condition that talks take place on basis of UN Security Council resolutions related to Cyprus question. UN Security Council 28 July unanimously voted in favour of renewing mandate of UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus for six months, until 31 Jan 2023.
Republic of Cyprus protested Türkiye’s new measures supporting Turkish Cypriots, while assisting “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in dousing wildfires. De facto tourism minister of “TRNC” 2 June announced Türkiye would designate Turkish Cypriot Ercan airport as domestic flight route; announcement followed Türkiye’s financial package for “TRNC”, which was agreed in April and made public in May, that triggered debate during month; Turkish officials claim measures are aimed at decreasing cost of flights to Cyprus and supporting north of island that remains economically isolated and faces serious economic strains. Republic of Cyprus (RoC) reacted harshly to measures; President Anastasiades 6 June said country will lodge complaint with UN over what he described as Türkiye’s ambition to exert “complete control” over “TRNC”. Tensions over such issues further reduced prospects of relaunching formal negotiations between communities, while room to discuss confidence-building measures also shrinks. Meanwhile, RoC assisted “TRNC” in combating widespread wildfires that broke out toward end of month after latter requested help; RoC sent two firefighting aircrafts and one helicopter, while UK and Israel also supported efforts. After RoC issued navigational advisory 19 June-3 July to install fiber optics inside Türkiye’s exclusive economic zone, Türkiye issued counter-advisory to block plan, insisting areas are inside its continental shelf.
Tensions over Varosha continued, while Republic of Cyprus and UK signed deal allowing Cypriots to develop properties in so-called UK “sovereign base areas”. Concerns flared among Greek Cypriots after video mid-month circulated allegedly showing bulldozer clearing another stretch of beach in fenced-off town of Varosha, under Turkish military control since 1974; Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 19 May said “I have been briefed officially from those monitoring developments there… we shall not leave this new provocation to go unnoticed, and we shall make all the necessary demarches”. Republic of Cyprus officials 9 May announced ground-breaking accord with UK which would enable thousands of Cypriots to develop properties in so-called “sovereign base areas” (3% of island) that the UK – owing to its colonial past – has held on island. Following resignation of Greek Cypriot chief negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis in April, govt 15 May appointed Menelaos Menelaou as replacement. In “TRNC”, three Turkish Cypriot political parties – the National Unity Party (UBP), Democratic Party (DP), and Rebirth Party (YDP) – late April formed new coalition govt, which failed on 1 May when coalition partners withdrew support; early general elections appear likely. Criticising Greek Cypriot efforts to bolster its defence capabilities, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 5 May said that Greek Cypriots were engaged in “an aggressive armament program and [were] preparing to shed blood”.
Greek Cypriot negotiator resigned over lack of progress in diplomatic process, while Republic of Cyprus boosted ties with Israel. Greek Cypriot chief negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis 17 April resigned, citing lack of progress on negotiations for resolution to Cyprus question; govt intends to appoint Menelaos Menelaou, foreign ministry official with long experience regarding Cyprus negotiations, after new president elected in Feb 2023. Israeli, Greek and Greek Cypriot FMs 5 April met in Greek capital Athens and vowed to boost energy ties and cooperation in other areas; specifically, they agreed to make progress on Euro-Asia interconnector project – world’s longest and deepest underwater power cable through Mediterranean (due to be completed in 2024). International news outlets 11 April reported that Republic of Cyprus, Israel and Greece were exploring option of building liquefied natural gas terminal in Republic of Cyprus.
Turkish Cypriot leadership cast Greek Cypriot proposals on confidence-building measures as insincere. After new Greek Cypriot FM Ioannis Kasoulides late Feb announced govt would actively pursue progress on confidence-building measures with Turkish Cypriot side (such as opening Ercan airport to international flights and handing over Varosha/Maraş area to UN administration), Turkish Cypriot leadership 7 March said offer was “nothing but old proposals that have been repeatedly negotiated and exhausted” that were “aimed at perpetuating the status quo and reinforcing the claim of the Greek Cypriot side that it is the sole sovereign of the island”. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in response to which Republic of Cyprus 28 Feb closed its airspace to Russia, Russia’s ambassador to Cyprus 1 March noted that Russian tourists could now go to Turkey “to spend their money”. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 11 March said “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) airspace was open to Russia, and its doors were open to tourists from there. War in Ukraine also appeared to accelerate discussions around how Eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbon resources can reduce western Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, but, for now, prospects look dim (see Turkey).
Prospects for relaunching formal negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots remained dim. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 2 Feb received UN Sec-Gen’s Special Representative in Cyprus Colin Stewart in Lefkoşa, de facto capital of Turkish Cypriot north of island. Following meeting, Stewart said that they were focused on steps such as intercommunal contact, trade relations and peace education to facilitate dialogue toward settlement. UN in Cyprus 8 Feb announced that Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Tatar agreed on action plan developed by Technical Committee on Gender Equality to ensure “women’s full, equal and meaningful representation in the settlement process in Cyprus”. New “coalition government” to be headed by Faiz Sucuoğlu 21 Feb formed in unrecognised Turkish Cypriot north between three right-wing parties.
UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres warned about diminishing prospects of negotiated solution. UN Security Council 17 Jan discussed two new reports on Cyprus submitted by UN Sec-Gen Guterres on 3 Jan in three-hour long meeting, during which Special Envoy Colin Stewart told members that UN mission is now focused on building trust and respect between two communities to foster better environment for building peace; in reports, Guterres had warned “without decisive action, continuing dynamics in and around Cyprus and electoral timelines could render future efforts to reach a mutually agreeable settlement to the Cyprus issue unattainable” and noted “further deepening of mistrust” between communities. In response to reports, Republic of Cyprus 4 Jan voiced disappointment for “downplaying the Turkish side’s aggressive conduct” while Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 7 Jan emphasised importance of “institutional cooperation on the basis of sovereign equality and an equal international regime”, adding that opening of Maraş/Varosha in Oct 2020 was done in accordance with civil rights and does not go against relevant UN resolutions. In his annual meeting with ambassadors of EU member states, Turkish President Erdoğan 13 Jan asserted that solution can only be reached by “acknowledging the sovereign equality and equal international status of the Turkish Cypriot people”; he also accused EU of acting as “mouthpiece” for Greek Cypriot side. In snap elections held in de facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on 23 Jan, right-wing National Unity Party won with around 40 per cent of vote; voter turnout was at record low of just under 58 per cent. UN Security Council 28 Jan renewed mandate of UN’s peacekeeping force on Cyprus until 31 July 2022, but expressed regret over lack of progress in restarting formal negotiations.
Progress on relaunching formal negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots remained stalled, while tensions over sovereignty rights in disputed maritime zones continued. In controversial comments, Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 1 Dec said Turkish Cypriots had more in common with Greek Cypriots than with Turkey and that “as long as they depend, and will depend on Turkey, they will suffer the same as the Turkish people”. After assuming his post in early Dec, UN Sec-Gen’s Special Representative and Head of UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus Colin Stewart 10 Dec met separately with Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar and Anastasiades; Tatar and Anastasiades 14 Dec met at UN reception, where Stewart applauded achievements of bicommunal Technical Committees established under UN auspices to facilitate interaction and understanding between island’s two communities. Mitsotakis 7 Dec said Turkey demonstrated “continued intransigence and unacceptable behaviour, both on land and in the maritime zones of Cyprus” and stressed that any settlement in the fenced-off city of Varosha will “condemn any attempt for a mutually acceptable solution” of the Cyprus issue. Meanwhile, maritime tensions continued. Turkey 2 Dec criticised Greek Cypriots’ attempts to issue exploration license in its claimed Exclusive Economic Zone to oil companies ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum. Republic of Cyprus Energy Minister Natasa Pilides 10 Dec signed natural gas exploration and production sharing contract with ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum, reiterating that Republic of Cyprus is “exercising its sovereign rights according to international law”. “Ministry of Foreign Affairs” of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) same day responded that contract is “clear usurpation of the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people” and “denial of Turkey’s rights in the region”. Turkish VP Fuat Oktay 15 Dec announced govt will respond to actions aimed at harming legitimate rights or interests of both Turkey and Turkish Cypriots. Following 2 Dec arson attack on Grand Mosque in Larnaca city in Republic of Cyprus, “TRNC” leader Tatar immediately condemned attack and Turkish President Erdoğan 6 Dec said attack “will not go unanswered” and those engaging in sabotage of places of worship “will pay a heavy price”.
UN Sec-Gen appointed new special representative, while tensions over sovereignty rights in disputed maritime zones remained high. Following months of diplomatic bickering, UN Sec-Gen António Guterres 4 Nov announced appointment of former Canadian diplomat Colin Stewart as his new special representative and head of UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Tensions persisted in disputed waters. Republic of Cyprus 3 Nov hosted multinational search and rescue exercise with participation of Greece, Egypt, France, Israel, Italy, U.S. and UK. Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials throughout month warned they would send vessels into designated maritime zones if Republic of Cyprus went ahead with drilling activities. After Greek Cypriot govt officials reiterated that oil companies ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum would resume drilling in area south west of island (Block 10), Turkish Deputy President Fuat Oktay 15 Nov warned Ankara will not be deterred from continuing drilling for oil and gas in disputed waters. Republic of Cyprus 19 Nov issued navigational advisory announcing “preparation works and drilling operations” by Exxon Mobil-Qatar Petroleum in its claimed exclusive economic zone until 30 Jan 2022. Republic of Cyprus Interior Minister Nicos Nouris 8 Nov described country in “state of emergency” due to “huge wave” of irregular migration coming across buffer zone on island. “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” Parliamentary Advisory Board reached consensus to hold early general elections on 23 Jan 2022. Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 19 Nov announced agreement to introduce 5G mobile coverage across island.
UN Sec-Gen proposed new special envoy, while maritime tensions persisted. UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres 3 Oct proposed appointment of Canadian Colin Stewart as new special envoy to Cyprus; Republic of Cyprus next day consented while “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) did not immediately respond in likely sign of disagreement over scope of envoy’s mandate. Meanwhile, tensions persisted in maritime domain. Greek Cypriot govt 3 Oct rejected Ankara’s calls to stop energy exploration by research vessels in waters south of island. In troubling incident that could become more common in months ahead, Turkish defence ministry 4 Oct announced Turkish navy had pushed back Greek Cypriot research vessel; Republic of Cyprus’s research vessel carried out survey operations in claimed Exclusive Economic Zone 21-23 Oct. Turkish navy 8 Oct issued advisory announcing that Turkish research vessel Oruç Reis, accompanied by Turkish warships, would carry out seismic surveys north of Cyprus 8 Oct-16 Dec; in response, Republic of Cyprus claimed such activity violated its sovereign rights. Turkish Cypriot authorities 13 Oct began new phase in opening of fenced-off town of Varosha, clearing roads and streets in one part of area Turkey had demilitarised for resettlement of Greek Cypriots who wish to reclaim their properties. Incumbent “TRNC” PM Ersan Saner 13 Oct resigned, saying acting govt was no longer sustainable given that it had lost majority support in parliament; parliamentary elections in “TRNC” planned for early 2022.
Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders discussed reigniting talks, while tensions persisted over hydrocarbon exploration. UN Sec-Gen Guterres 27 Sept held meeting with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders during which sides discussed how to overcome stalemate in efforts to relaunch formal settlement talks; Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades subsequently announced that Guterres was considering appointment of special envoy who would search for common ground and work on confidence-building measures within pre-existing UN parameters. After Exxon Mobil/Qatar Petroleum consortium late Aug announced plans to begin work late Nov-early Dec in Republic of Cyprus’ offshore block 10, Turkish VP Fuat Oktay 4 Oct said Turkey would also commence hydrocarbon activities if Greek Cypriots commence drilling in eastern Mediterranean. In letter to Cypriot MEP Niyazi Kızılyürek, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen 7 Sept called on Turkey “to reverse the actions undertaken in Varosha since October 2020”, called 20 July statement from Turkish President Erdoğan and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar to reopen section of Varosha/Maraş, area under Turkish military control since 1974, “an unacceptable unilateral decision” to change status of fenced-off area, also reiterated EU’s commitment to solution based on a bi-zonal bi-communal federation with two sides having political equality. Tatar 10 Sept said he continues to work for recognition of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) and reiterated on several occasions during month that only viable solution to overcome deadlock on island is two-state formula based on sovereign equality of two political entities on island. In contrast, Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 14 Sept said that he would brief UN Sec-Gen Guterres on his proposal on return to 1960 constitution; proposal envisions “Turkish Cypriots returning to the executive, legislative, judicial authority and the other services of the Republic”.
Tensions persisted on island over passport dispute, while international partners criticised Turkish Cypriot plan to reopen section of Varosha/Maraş. Republic of Cyprus 23 Aug announced it would cancel or refuse to renew passports of handful of Turkish Cypriot officials of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”), notably “TRNC” leader Ersin Tatar, citing their actions that “undermine the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and security of the Republic of Cyprus”; Tatar called move “an assault on the efforts to find a settlement”. Criticism continued of Turkish Cypriot’s Ankara-backed initiative in July to reopen section of Varosha/Maraş, area under Turkish military since 1974. After EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell late July said EU will consider taking punitive measures, president of EU Parliament 1 Aug urged Ankara to stop “unacceptable violations” in Varosha. In letter to Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades, Russian President Putin 2 Aug called violations of UN Security Council resolutions “unacceptable” and expressed support for finding solution to Cyprus issue within “framework of international law”. Tatar 2 Aug reiterated that “Varosha is within the borders of the TRNC”. Meanwhile, reports mid-month surfaced that UK, in particular, had intensified efforts to forge dialogue for relaunch of formal negotiations, seeking to take advantage of presence of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders at UN General Assembly scheduled for late Sept. Tatar 9 Aug underscored desire for two-state solution, saying “it is time for the world to recognise the reality that we have two different states, [and] any effort to push us into a mixed marriage is doomed to fail”.
Turkish Cypriot leader announced plan to take civilian control of area under Turkish military since 1974, sparking widespread international opposition, while maritime tensions continued. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 20 July announced that Turkish military would hand over 3.5-sq km section of sealed-off quarter of Varosha/Maraş to civilian “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) control and Greek Cypriot property owners could apply to Turkish Cypriot administration for reparations. Announcement sparked international criticism: Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades called plan “illegal and unacceptable” and Greek MFA 20 July condemned action “in the strongest terms”, while UK, U.S., Germany and EU 20-22 July voiced strong opposition; UN Security Council 23 July unanimously called for “immediate reversal” of steps. EU 27 July condemned “Turkey’s unilateral steps”, prompting Turkish foreign ministry same day to call EU position “biased”. President Erdoğan 19-20 July visited “TRNC”, announcing plans to construct new govt complex for political leadership of “TRNC”. In maritime domain, Turkish Petroleum Corporation 9 July applied for new exploration licence in three areas off coast of Silifke in Mersin province, in zone that also includes significant parts of Greek Cypriot-claimed Exclusive Economic Zone. Tensions rose after Greek Cypriot police 16 July accused Turkish Cypriot Coast Guard vessel of firing warning shots at Greek Cypriot Coast Guard patrol in island’s northern gulf of Morphou, while allegedly violating Greek Cypriot territorial waters; Greek Cypriot official Marios Pelekanos said: “There is no excuse for this behaviour by the Turkish vessel”, while “TRNC” Security Forces Command called incident “fake news”. Meanwhile, Turkey and “TRNC” intensified efforts to secure diplomatic recognition of “TRNC”. Consular team of Pakistan embassy in Turkey 11 July conducted official three-day visit to de facto administration in north while Azerbaijani parliamentarians 16 July visited “TRNC”. UN Security Council 29 July extended mandate of UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus for six months until 31 Jan 2022.
Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders agreed to open border crossings, while UN continued diplomatic engagement with Cypriot parties in hope of scheduling new international conference. In show of goodwill, Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades and “TRNC” President Ersin Tatar 2 June confirmed agreement on reopening all crossing points on island from 4 June onward; crossings between north and south had been essentially closed since Feb 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Anastasiades and Tatar 22 June held separate meetings with U.N. Special Envoy on Cyprus Dispute Jane Holl Lute as part of efforts to search for common ground and assess prospects for second 5+1 conference. Tensions at sea continued, notably when Turkish Coast Guard 22 June blocked and reportedly boarded Greek Cypriot fishing boat off Dipkarpaz town (north-eastern part of Cyprus). Turkey issued numerous advisories for military drills, including in area south of Dipkarpaz 1-18 June, in Gulf of Morphou (northern part of Cyprus) on 23 June and south of Dipkarpaz 1-16 July. Following 30 May parliamentary elections in Republic of Cyprus — which saw ruling Democratic Rally party claim 27.8% of the votes, marking party’s worst election result in 40 years — Tatar 1 June noted hardline forces favouring unitary state were gaining ground in south. At 24-25 June summit, European Council said it remained “fully committed to the comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem on the basis of a bicommunal, bi-zonal federation with political equality”; Turkish ministry of foreign affairs 25 June responded that it is impossible for EU “to make a positive contribution to the Cyprus issue” as long as bloc “ignores Turkish Cypriots and disregards their equal rights”.
President Anastasiades urged Turkish Cypriots to abandon two-state solution while Republic of Cyprus held parliamentary elections. Following late April 5+1 informal meeting between UN, leaders of two Cypriot communities and three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK, gap between positions of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots remained wide in terms of desired outcome for Cyprus settlement. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 27 May reacted harshly to conditions put forth by Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades during his visit to Brussels, which included that Turkish Cypriots should abandon their two-state solution proposition. In parliamentary elections held in Republic of Cyprus 30 May, ruling conservative DISY party emerged in first place but fell short of outright majority. UN Special Envoy for Cyprus Jane Hall Lute, due to visit Greek capital Athens, Turkish capital Ankara and Republic of Cyprus capital Nicosia next month to seek common ground for new round of talks.
Informal five-plus-one talks commenced in Geneva, ending without breakthrough but with sides expressing willingness to continue dialogue in near future. Leaders of two Cypriot communities, UN and three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK 27-29 April met in Swiss city Geneva for informal talks. Meeting concluded without bridging differences between Greek Cypriot delegation, which favours bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, and Turkish Cypriot delegation, which seeks two-state solution; following talks, UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres 29 April concluded: “We have not yet found enough common grounds to allow for the resumption of formal negotiations”, but announced that sides voiced willingness to hold further informal talks in coming months. Ahead of meeting, thousands of protesters from both Cypriot communities 24 April rallied in support of reunification. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 25 April said “only realistic solution” is one “based on the sovereign equality of two states living side by side”. Meanwhile, Greek and Turkish sides exchanged fiery rhetoric. Turkish President Erdoğan 14 April said if “rights of Northern Cyprus are usurped” then Turkey will intervene as “our ships are ready to sail”. Turkish FM Mevlut Çavuşoğlu next day said negotiating federation, which Turkey has done for past five decades, is waste of time and impossibility; remarks followed Greek PM Mitsotakis’s comments last month that “Turkish aggression against Cyprus undermines Ankara’s European course and essentially the very resumption of talks on resolving the Cyprus issue”.
Expectations for next month’s high-level talks on resolving longstanding conflict remained tempered. Ahead of five-plus-one talks – which will include UN, leaders of two Cypriot communities, and three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK – scheduled for 27-29 April in Geneva, sides remained far apart on desired outcomes: Turkey/Turkish Cypriots favour solution based on equal sovereignty of two states, while Greece/Republic of Cyprus continue to voice support for return to settlement talks for bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Turkish President Erdoğan 19 March called for debate around new and realistic options “instead of dictating to the sides past models that have proven to be unsuccessful”. Republic of Cyprus, Greece and Israel 8 March signed Memorandum of Understanding on project to establish new energy grid transporting electricity from Israel-Cyprus to Europe through Greece; Ankara 16 March issued verbal note requesting information and that its approval be sought for “works in areas within [Turkey’s] continental shelf”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrel 8 March said: “The relative calm we are currently experiencing at sea in the Eastern Mediterranean and on settlement-related issues is fragile. Progress in the Cyprus talks is more important than ever”.
UN scheduled informal meeting after almost four-year hiatus while proposal to share prospective hydrocarbon revenues gained traction. UN 24 Feb announced five-plus-one talks – which includes UN, leaders of two Cypriot communities, and three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK – to be held 27-29 April “to determine whether common ground exists for the parties to negotiate a lasting solution”; talks will be held for first time since negotiations collapsed in 2017. Ahead of announcement, Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials throughout Feb continued to emphasise preference for solution based on equal sovereignty of two states, while Greek and Greek Cypriot sides continued to voice support for return to settlement talks for bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Meanwhile, Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 2 Feb visited “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and, after meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, declared “if in Cyprus we manage to find a way to share revenues, then we will have solved 50% of the eastern Mediterranean issue”; proposal followed Jan letter from Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades to UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres that reportedly proposed escrow account to share prospective hydrocarbon revenues between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.
Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders expressed willingness to convene for UN-led talks in coming months. UN special envoy on Cyprus dispute Jane Holl Lute continued groundwork to prepare for relaunching talks. Lute 11 Jan met separately Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar and Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades; following meeting, Republic of Cyprus announced UN Sec-Gen Guterres was exploring option of organising five-party conference – which would include leaders of two Cypriot communities, as well as three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK – to assess current state of affairs and prospects for relaunching talks; Tatar said that five-party meeting in Feb or March 2021 was possible and reiterated that he would “pursue an agreement on the basis of sovereign equality within a two-state solution framework”; Tatar 26 Jan said: “We deserve our own state to be recognized”. Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 22 Jan said talks will be held in New York in next two months with EU as observer. Tensions over hydrocarbon explorations in disputed waters around island remained at low ebb after Turkey 13 Jan withdrew its survey vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa (see Eastern Mediterranean).
Prospects for relaunching UN talks remained dim amid gap between Turkey and Turkish Cypriots on one hand and Greece and Greek Cypriots on the other. UN Special Envoy to Cyprus Jane Holl Lute throughout month met relevant stakeholders to lay foundations for relaunching UN-sponsored talks. Lute 1 Dec met Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, who spoke in favour of restarting talks but stressed that federal solution – on which talks in past were based – had not led to any result and that “it [was] time for a solution to be based on sovereign equality; where there are two states co-existing side by side”. Following 16 Dec meeting with Lute in Ankara, Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu echoed sentiment, tweeting that “federation project is no longer sustainable. In line with realities on island, Turkish side promotes two-state settlement based on equal sovereignty”. In contrast, following meetings with Lute, Greek Cypriot officials 1 Dec and Greek officials 2 Dec reiterated position that talks should resume where they left off in previous round. In “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”, PM Ersan Saner 9 Dec formed new govt following fall of previous one in Oct.
UN convened preliminary talks between Cypriot leaders while Turkish drilling activity continued to fuel tensions. Following Oct victory of two-state solution advocate Ersin Tatar in “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) elections, head of UN mission in Cyprus Elizabeth Spehar 3 Nov organised preliminary meeting between Tatar and Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades; both sides “expressed their determination to positively respond to the UN Secretary-General’s commitment to explore the possibility to convene an informal five-plus-UN meeting”; five-member format includes Greece, Turkey, UK and both Cypriot communities. During visit to “TRNC” celebrating 37th anniversary of declaration of independence, Turkish President Erdoğan 15 Nov said that “a two-state solution must be discussed and negotiated on the basis of sovereign equality”, as opposed to federal solution; Erdoğan also visited Varosha/Maraş town following partial reopening of its beachfront in Oct, prompting Republic of Cyprus presidency same day to say move could “torpedo the prospects for the creation of the appropriate climate” for UN talks to resume. Amid ongoing tensions related to hydrocarbon exploration in region (see Eastern Mediterranean), Turkey continued survey activity off south-western coast of Cyprus; Ankara 3 Nov extended exploration activities of Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa ship until 16 Feb 2021 and 13 Nov announced drillship Yavuz would resume its operations in contested waters around Cyprus.
Turkish Cypriots elected new “presidential” leader Ersin Tatar. “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) govt 6 Oct collapsed after coalition partner People’s Party withdrew in protest of 8 Oct govt decision to partially reopen beachfront strip in Maraş/Varosha, town that has remained closed to visitors after Turkish military seized it in 1974; President Erdoğan 14 Oct described move as “historical milestone for Cyprus”; Greek PM Mitsotakis 7 October called it “a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution” while Republic of Cyprus presidency 8 Oct condemned opening. In second round of TRNC “presidential” election, Ersin Tatar 19 Oct defeated Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı; election of Tatar could further complicate ongoing UN efforts to relaunch reunification talks given Tatar favours “two-state solution” over bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. UN 27 Oct said Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders will meet in UN mission in island’s buffer zone on 3 Nov.
UN announced intention to reignite stalled reunification talks, while Turkey and Greece expressed willingness to defuse persistent tensions in Eastern Mediterranean. UN Sec-Gen António Guterres 16 Sept announced intention to restart reunification talks in Cyprus and convene meeting of relevant parties following 11 Oct presidential election in “Turkish Republic of North Cyprus” (TRNC); Republic of Cyprus officials welcomed proposal but stated Turkey must first cease exploration activities in its exclusive economic zone, while “TRNC” “PM” Ersin Tarar welcomed move and called for solutions other than federation; Turkish FM 15 Sept expressed opposition to federative solution and said options such as a “loose federation” or “confederation” should be discussed. U.S. 1 Sept lifted for one year 33-year-old arms embargo to allow sale of “non-lethal military goods” to Republic of Cyprus; Turkish MFA same day condemned move as having “negative effects on the efforts to reach a settlement on the Cyprus issue”. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 12 Sept visited Republic of Cyprus, expressed “deep concerns” over Turkish actions in region while reaffirming U.S. support for “bi-zonal, bi-communal federation”. Previously, Russian FM Lavrov 7-8 Sept visited Republic of Cyprus, expressed willingness to “assist with establishing a pragmatic dialogue” between Republic of Cyprus and Turkey; Turkish FM 14 Sept responded that if Russia wished to mediate, counterpart would be “TRNC”, not Turkey. Amid ongoing tensions between Turkey and Greece in eastern Mediterranean, Ankara 12 Sept withdrew its drillship Oruç Reis from contested waters and returned it to Turkish port Antalya; Greek PM Mitsotakis 13 Sept welcomed “positive first step” toward de-escalation. Turkish President Erdoğan 18 Sept said he was eager to give “a chance to diplomacy and display a positive approach”. Both sides continued to carry out military exercises in contested waters throughout month. Meanwhile, efforts to defuse tensions continued apace: as of 20 Sept, NATO had convened four rounds of military-to-military technical de-confliction talks, while Germany continued to facilitate preparations for bilateral “exploratory talks” between sides; Athens and Ankara mid-Sept both confirmed readiness to begin exploratory dialogue soon.
Tensions rose in Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey throughout month continued drilling activities with three vessels in disputed maritime areas in Eastern Mediterranean: Cypriot FM 11 Aug criticised presence of Turkish drilling ship in Blocks 2 and 3, stating “once again Turkey chooses the route of unilateral illegal actions”; Turkish exploration vessel Oruç Reis 10 Aug resumed activities in waters south of Kastellorizo island in the area between Greek, Cypriot and Egyptian-claimed waters, same day prompting Greece to hold national security council meeting and state “most of the fleet is ready to be deployed whenever necessary”; Turkish President Erdoğan 13 Aug pledged retaliation if Greece interfered with Oruç Reis activities. Previously, Greek PM Mitsotakis 6 Aug and Erdoğan 10 Aug respectively voiced openness to begin talks to solve issues. Greek frigate Limnos and Turkish vessel Kemalreis reportedly collided 12 Aug. Turkey 15 Aug issued new advisory for drilling activities in maritime area southwest of Cyprus; EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell same day said move “regrettably fuels further tensions and insecurity”. EU foreign affairs council 14 Aug reaffirmed support for Republic of Cyprus and Greece; Borrell 28 Aug said adoption of sanctions against individuals based on Republic of Cyprus recommendations will be sped up and “list of further restrictive measures” could be discussed next month. Meanwhile, France and Republic of Cyprus 1 Aug began implementation of 2017 defence cooperation agreement. Greece, Cyprus, France and Italy 26 Aug launched joint military exercises south of Cyprus; United Arab Emirates same day deployed fighter jets to Greece to take part in joint military exercises. Turkish military 28 Aug reportedly intercepted six Greek F-16 fighter jets that had taken off from Greek island of Crete and headed towards Cyprus, further raising fears of escalation. Turkish Navy 27 Aug announced military drills off the coast of Turkish city Iskenderun until 1-2 Sept and on 29 Aug off the coast of Turkish town Anamur until 11 Sept.
Tensions continued in Eastern Mediterranean. Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 7 July accused Turkey of being “an agitator that’s seeking to dominate the entire eastern Mediterranean”. Turkey 15 July issued advisory for drilling activities until 20 Aug in maritime areas claimed by Republic of Cyprus and Greece; Greek FM same day called on EU to impose “crippling sanctions” in response to Turkish efforts to drill in Greek-claimed waters; Athens 21 July lodged diplomatic protest with Ankara. Prospect of Turkish naval escort for Turkish drilling ship Oruç Reis 22 July prompted Greece to prepare naval operations in same area and 26 July issue its own advisory for military operations; Turkish presidential office 28 July said President Erdogan requested pause in drilling operations pending talks with Greece. U.S. 8 July announced inclusion of Republic of Cyprus in its International Military Education and Training program for 2020-2021; Cypriot defence minister welcomed move while Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı 9 July said these sorts of initiatives “negatively affect the continuing efforts between the two sides of the island to achieve stability in the region”. On 20 July, 46th anniversary of Turkish military intervention in Cyprus, President Erdoğan said “a fair, permanent solution on Cyprus is only possible with the acceptance of equal status for Turkish Cypriots.” UN Security Council 28 July unanimously voted to extend UN peacekeeping force until Jan 2021.
Prospects for restarting reunification talks remained bleak amid ongoing tensions in Eastern Mediterranean. Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 6 June said Cyprus reunification talks can “definitely” resume if Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı is reelected in polls currently scheduled for Oct 2020; last round of UN-led talks ended without agreement in mid-2017. Turkish drilling continued in maritime areas claimed by Republic of Cyprus; Turkish energy minister 2 June announced seven licensed areas in Eastern Mediterranean for oil exploration and gas drilling under maritime deal reached with Libya in late 2019. President Anastasiades 6 June said Turkey should lose its status as candidate for EU accession if it “doesn’t dial down its aggression in the Eastern Mediterranean”. Following meeting with Republic of Cyprus’ FM, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 25 June said “Turkish illegal drillings must stop” and affirmed EU support for Cyprus’ previous calls to negotiate a maritime border agreement with Ankara; Turkey 27 June rejected EU’s call for talks, describing them as “far from serious”. Ongoing tensions over maritime borders and drilling triggered heated exchange between Turkey and Greece as both sides early June signalled their readiness to use force to protect their respective interests; Greek PM Mitsotakis 11 June signalled willingness to discuss delimitation of maritime zones with Turkey. Republic of Cyprus FM 21 June held telephone conversation with Egyptian counterpart to discuss developments in Eastern Mediterranean and Turkish involvement in Libya’s conflict; FM 23 June met Israeli counterpart in Tel Aviv to discuss bilateral issues.
Amid ongoing tensions over hydrocarbon exploration in eastern Mediterranean, Republic of Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece and United Arab Emirates 11 May issued joint declaration denouncing Turkey’s drilling activities, calling on Ankara to “fully respect the sovereignty and the sovereign rights of all states in their maritime zones”; Ankara accused countries of “attempting to create an axis of malice”. EU foreign ministers 15 May condemned Turkey’s unilateral actions in eastern Mediterranean, confirming they stood “in full solidarity with Cyprus”; Ankara dismissed statement. Following April decision by U.S. company Exxon Mobil to postpone planned drilling in eastern Mediterranean due to falling demand for oil and gas, Republic of Cyprus’ energy ministry 5 May announced French company Total and Italian company Eni also postponing planned exploration operations. Republic of Cyprus president and Turkish Cypriot leader 21 May agreed to permit Turkish Cypriot students, workers and those seeking health treatment to cross border from 8 June as part of relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions, which had prevented such movement since late Feb.
No progress was marked on UN efforts to relaunch reunification talks, while tensions between Turkey, Greece, and Republic of Cyprus on gas drilling in eastern Mediterranean continued. Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 14 April said Greece had rejected President Erdoğan’s proposal for high-level dialogue mechanism to discuss fair distribution of revenues from energy in eastern Mediterranean, maritime delimitation disagreements, and resolution of Cyprus dispute. Amid rapid fall in oil prices, Cypriot energy minister 13 April confirmed U.S. company Exxon Mobil decision to postpone planned drilling in Block 10 of Republic of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone until Sept 2021; other oil companies could follow suit.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı 2 March criticised decision by Republic of Cyprus govt to close four of eight checkpoints on dividing line separating Republic of Cyprus from self-declared “Turkish Republic of North Cyprus” (“TRNC”) to combat spread of COVID-19. Pro-federalist activists 7 and 9 March staged protests on either side of closed border crossing leading to small-scale clashes between police, Greek and Turkish Cypriots and UN soldiers. “TRNC” officials 19 March said they had postponed “presidential” elections from 26 April to 11 Oct due to COVID-19; Akıncı to continue in caretaker capacity. Tensions between Turkey and Republic of Cyprus and Greece over gas drilling in eastern Mediterranean remained high: Turkey’s third drillship, dubbed Kanuni and newly acquired from UK, arrived in Turkey 15 March.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı 6 Feb said Cyprus faces risk of permanent partition if Turkish and Greek Cypriot parties fail to reach deal under federal framework; Akıncı said that if no deal is made Turkey could subsume northern part of island as de facto Turkish province; his remarks drew harsh criticism from Ankara. UN Sec-Gen 24 Feb confirmed his intention to relaunch Cyprus reunification talks after April presidential election in “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”. As tensions persisted between Turkey and Republic of Cyprus over drilling for hydrocarbons in Eastern Mediterranean, European Council 4 Feb imposed travel bans and asset freezes on two Turkish nationals involved in drilling business; EU 27 Feb imposed sanctions on Turkish Petroleum Corporation’s VP and Deputy Director of Exploration. Turkey 9 Feb acquired from UK its third offshore drilling vessel; drillship set to join two Turkish vessels operating in Eastern Mediterranean, including in maritime zones claimed by Republic of Cyprus.
Republic of Cyprus govt signed gas pipeline deal with Greece and Israel that would go past Turkey in eastern Mediterranean as Turkish hydrocarbon explorations continued. Prospects for rejuvenation of reunification talks remained bleak. Republic of Cyprus, Greece and Israel 2 Jan signed agreement validating construction of an eastern Mediterranean natural gas pipeline that would bypass Turkey; Turkish FM spokesperson same day criticised agreement saying it was “the latest instance of futile steps, aiming to exclude Turkey and “TRNC” [referring to the internationally unrecognised “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”] in the region”. Turkish govt 17 Jan dispatched Yavuz drillship to maritime area in Republic of Cyprus’ declared exclusive economic zone for further round of hydrocarbon explorations; EU foreign policy chief Borrell next day announced EU was preparing list of names of Turkish individuals and businesses to be sanctioned over Turkey’s continued drilling activities. Turkish govt 30 Jan vowed to continue all off-shore activities in maritime area claimed by Republic of Cyprus until rights of Turkish Cypriots are “guaranteed”. Referring to Cyprus reunification talks, UN special envoy for Cyprus 20 Jan said “there’s growing scepticism as to whether it’s still possible” as negotiations remained deadlocked.