Cutting the Gordian knot

Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan in her acclaimed study of the transformative role played by war explains about the benefits it has also brought to society.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 has not only signalled an end to the rules-based international order established by the United Nations in 1945 but also upended some of the assumptions on which our Western society is based.

For example, Francis Fukuyama, author of the celebrated “The End of History”, has conceded that the invasion is a critical turning point in world history and marks the end of the post-cold war era.   

Fukuyama admits the rise of illiberal authoritarian regimes such as Russia, China, Syria, Venezuela, Iran and Nicaragua. Furthermore, he characterises Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a resentful, revanchist country intent on reversing the entire post-1991 European order.

As British journalist and author Anatol Lieven points out in his essay on Putin’s circle, great power mixed with great resentment is one of the most dangerous mixtures in both domestic and international politics.

Seen in this context, Turkey can be characterised as an illiberal democracy with all of the trappings of a democracy but little of the reality. In reality, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey is beholden to Russia as an ‘abi’ (big brother) for much of its economy, for example, gas, trade and tourism.

Although Turkey has joined the Eurasianist camp with its purchase of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile defence system, it is still pro forma a member of NATO. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has made it clear Russia has never truly considered Turkey as a strategic ally but only as a close partner.

Nevertheless, both Putin and Erdoğan share the same revanchist dream of extending their country’s borders, which in Turkey’s case has led to the occupation of northern Cyprus in the 1970s and areas of northern Syria starting in the second half of 2010s.

Michael Rubin, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, has drawn a parallel between Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus and Russia’s claim to Donetsk. Here I would add that Turkey with its policy of ‘Heim ins Reich’ towards Cyprus has in Ersin Tatar found its Konrad Henlein, the leader of the Sudeten Germans in Czechslovakia.  

One of the revisions of foreign policy that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to is  an appraisal of Europe’s dependency on Russian gas. This in turn brings into play the role played by the gas resources in the Levant Basin in the Eastern Mediterranean, which has been a bone of contention between Turkey and Cyprus. As the International Crisis Group already ten years ago argued, this could be the basis for a new dialogue.       

The U.S. State Department has in a non-paper already sounded the death knell for the EastMed pipeline, the main reason being the prohibitive cost of establishing the 1,900 km pipeline and also Turkey’s objections.

Because of the collapse of Turkey’s economy and ‘Erdoğanomics’, Erdoğan, who together with his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) next year faces re-election, is a man backed into a corner.

This also rubs off on his foreign policy.

As Tim Ash, emerging markets strategist concludes, Erdoğan’s strategy is clear.

Try and make friends with everyone internationally so as to secure bilateral external financing. It is for this reason that Erdoğan invited Israel’s President Isaac Herzog to visit in March with the main aim of securing a deal with Israel on a pipeline from Israel’s gas reserves to Turkey.       

This would benefit both Europe and Turkey, as it would reinforce Turkey’s claim to be an energy hub. However, this ambition has been met with scepticism in Israel. According to Professor Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, the optimal solution economically and practically will be a pipeline from Israel to Turkey via Cyprus.

This could involve a pipeline from Israel’s Leviathan field through Cypriot waters, which would imply Cyprus’ permission. In the event, the most practical solution would be to run the pipeline overland through Cyprus, leaving only 65 km for the undersea pipeline to Turkey.

The main obstacle here is political. On the one hand, there is Ankara’s insistence on a two-state solution for the island’s reunification and on the other, President Anastasiades’ insistence on Turkey’s recognition of the Republic. Both ignore the fact that there are two separate administrations, that in northern Cyprus being dependent on Turkey. In fact, the latter has been heavier hit by inflation than Turkey.  

The Cyprus Mail has in an editorial called on the Anastasiades government to give up the fantasy about the EastMed pipeline and look at possible ways of Cyprus becoming a part of the new regional order being shaped.

The SWP (German Institute for International and Security Affairs) has in a report indicated how the Eastern Mediterranean can be a focus for the EU’s energy transition.

This indicates the possibilities for regional cooperation and opportunities for dialogue.

A fortnight ago Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid met with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts in Athens and addressed the opportunities to reduce dependency on Russian gas. “There are risks here, but there are also opportunities,” he stated.

Lapid added: “There is also a great opportunity to deepen the ties between us and strengthen regional stability.”

Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, the Jerusalem Institute’s Turkey expert, believes there are four players, Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Turkey, who all want to eat this delicious pie. The trick, Cohen said, is to find a common denominator that shares the pie.

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