The 6th Trillateral Summit was much different from the previous

Anastassios Tsiplacos - South East Med Energy & Defense Analyst

“Secretary Pompeo underlined U.S. support for the trilateral mechanism established by Israel, Greece and Cyprus, noting the importance of increased cooperation; to support energy independence and security; and to defend against external malign influences in the Eastern Mediterranean and the broader Middle East.”

The picture of gas development in the Eastern Mediterranean continues to shift and expand. Large reserves close to growing markets, coupled with new market entrants and shifting political alliances, continue to feed E&P initiatives and questions about export infrastructure. Much talk and many propositions for infrastructure buildout have emerged, however few concrete steps have been taken. International cooperation is needed to get projects off the ground.

Unlike previous Trilaterals, which focused on all the issues of cooperation between the three countries, the agenda of the 6th Summit was dominated by energy and security at all levels, taking into account the latest developments in the energy of the Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone, the processes towards the Egyptian side but also to the Israeli EEZ. In a joint statement issued by the governments of the United States, the State of Israel, the Hellenic Republic, and the Republic of Cyprus, with the participation of mr. Pompeo they affirmed: “…their shared commitment to promoting peace, stability, security and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean region.”

Long ago, the Mediterranean was known as the Middle Sea, because for centuries it provided the principal means of communication between empires and civilizations. Today’s Mediterranean is reclaiming much of that historic legacy. Just three weeks ago, ExxonMobil announced the world’s third-biggest gas find in the last two years off the coast of Cyprus. Combining this discovery with existing Noble finds in the Israeli and Cypriot EEZs, the Zohr field in Egypt’s, and anything resulting from upcoming exploration in the region by ExxonMobil, Total and Eni could have important geopolitical, environmental and economic consequences. That these resources may be delivered to European markets through the planned EastMed pipeline makes western democracies primary stakeholders in the region’s energy politics.

In the short term, these natural gas finds will help Eastern Mediterranean countries transition away from crude, as a source of electricity generation and could provide economic stimulus for countries such as Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Jordan that are emerging from economic crises or, in any case, sorely need a boost. Moreover, they provide an alternative to the ambiguous dependence on Russian gas, not only for Eastern Mediterranean countries, but also for the Balkans, Italy and eventually the whole of E.U.

In the long term, energy diplomacy has the potential to transform the Eastern Mediterranean from a mere geographical designation to a vital political and economic entity. A more stable, energy-independent and integrated Eastern Mediterranean will be a game changer in this vital part of the world and could serve as a model for future cross-border development far beyond.

Geopolitical cooperation: East Med countries agree to create regional gas market

Eastern Mediterranean countries have agreed to create a regional gas market in an effort to transform their part of the Mediterranean into a major energy hub. Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories founded on January 14th a forum to ensure supply and demand, cut infrastructure costs and offer competitive prices. The East Med Gas Forum (EMGF), which will be based in Cairo, right now is in a transitional period, searching for synergies and open to ideas. The idea maybe is to turn it into an actual new international organisation. The members at the moment are the founding Member States while international organisations such as the European Union, will only have observer status.

Undoubtedly, EMGF is a welcome development. Even though it is a political arrangement, it can but only contribute to cooperation in the region. Natural gas could be crucial to the future of East Med countries and any such initiatives that could promote its development can only be helpful. All countries around the East Med can benefit. Gas export projects could benefit from such cooperation, especially with regards to ensuring a conducive, regulatory environment, putting in place the required intergovernmental arrangements and removing political risk. With global economic growth slowing down and ample global supplies, gas prices are trending even lower. This is a challenge for expensive-to-develop East Med gas projects. Gas exports from Egypt’s LNG plants, Idku and Damietta, are possible because liquefication costs are low. Nevertheless, the proposed EastMed gas pipeline face headwinds. It is mainly a political driven project and even though the formation of EMGF can provide it with strong and concerted political support, it is not enough. The project still needs to secure buyers in Europe for its gas and companies prepared to invest in it,. That may happen only if it can deliver gas at prices that can compete with existing low prices in Europe.

Why the U.S. participated in the Jerusalem’s Trilateral

American strategic interests face challenges around the Eastern Mediterranean basin. The Shia-Sunni divide that has helped put the Middle East in even deeper turmoil is playing out on its shores, with the involvement of both state and non-state stakeholders. Turkey -once a paragon of stability and a source of great optimism for many in the West- has become increasingly authoritarian and unreliable. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strong-arm leadership has turned a “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy, into one where Ankara has zero neighbors with which it doesn’t have problems. And two interlocking crises, one economic and the other involving migration, have roiled the European Union, starting with its member-states along the Mediterranean.

Facing an unprecedented number of foreign policy flashpoints, the US risks being spread too thin to adequately address the challenges in the region and protect American interests alone. This is precisely where Israel, Greece and Cyprus come in. Moreover, the U.S. has shown that it has returned to the region for good after a short but critical period that will be labeled in the historical analysis as one of cognitive denial -a period during which Russia took the opportunity to reestablish itself in the region. The fact that Russia, through Gazprom, steadily increases gas exports to E.U. countries and the Balkans appears to have alarmed the U.S., which is attempting to reverse the status quo and enhance its presence in the European LNG market, putting an end to Moscow’s tactic of using its natural gas exports to exercise economic and political influence in Europe. The U.S. and Russia, respectively the world’s largest and second-largest producers of natural gas, are both poised to play a vital role in brokering -and benefiting- from the coming “Eastern Mediterranean Big Game” (for more read “Energy Wars: The Security of the New Energy Routes in the South East Mediterranean”).

With the strong American interest becoming substantial, it was only natural for the four states to focus on safeguarding activities, both in energy sources and infrastructures that are under study. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo twitted to hail a “…productive meeting” with the leaders of Greece, Cyprus and Israel in Jerusalem. “Had a productive meeting with leaders from #Israel, #Greece and #Cyprus on key issues in the Eastern Mediterranean… the US, Israel, the Republic of Cyprus and Greece are important key partners in security and prosperity. By working together on these important energy issues, I know that security and prosperity will improve even more between our countries. The US strongly supports our democratic allies in their endeavor to expand cooperation and invest in the future of their energy markets.”

A firm warning to Turkey

The presence of the U.S. sealed, as estimated, the decisions the three leaders made and acted as a response to the Turkish provocations, alongside the strongest signal yet by Washington of halting delivery of equipment related to the F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey. The United States is nearing an inflection point in a years-long standoff with Turkey, a NATO ally, after so far failing to sway President Tayyip Erdogan that buying a Russian air defense system would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft. “The S-400 is a computer. The F-35 is a computer. You don’t hook your computer to your adversary’s computer and that’s basically what we would be doing,” stated recently Katie Wheelbarger, acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for international security affairs. Following Washington’s decision, the next shipment of training equipment, and all subsequent shipments of F-35 related material, have been canceled. U.S. officials told their Turkish counterparts they will not receive further shipments of F-35 related equipment needed to prepare for the arrival of the fighter.

A decision to drop Turkey from the F-35 program would have broader repercussions, since it helps manufacture parts for the aircraft, including components of the landing gear, cockpit displays and aircraft engines. However, the prospect of Russian contractors or officials on Turkish bases, that also are home to the F-35 is unfathomable to many U.S. officials. Therefore, the Pentagon, in light of the standoff, is looking “across the board” at potential alternate suppliers for F-35 parts, including in other NATO countries.

Additionaly, Souda Bay Naval Base in Greece and the British bases in Cyprus make these countries especially valuable for NATO and U.S. security interests, and expansion in both could allow them, if needed, to decrease their reliance on the Incirlik base in volatile Turkey. The U.S. needs reliable allies, and for the first time in the region’s history can look primarily to those who share both interests and values. Greece, Cyprus and Israel are strong partners that can check malign influences in this region and the broader Middle East. Therefore, Washington is examining the deepening of American participation in these Trilateral summits. And both the administration and Congress, which already has a Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance, explores the future transformation of the trilateral cooperation into a quadrilateral partnership (for more see: Greece and Israel as “frontier states” in “Why the U.S. participate in the Jerusalem’s Trilateral”).

ISRAEL: Towards tough elections

Prime Minister Netanyahu reminded that this Summit was the 6th in a row of meetings between Israel, Cyprus, and Greece: “We began this a few years ago and it’s blossomed into one of the best regional associations in the world. We plan to create the EastMed pipeline from Israel, Cyprus, to Europe, which will provide stability in the region, prosperity for our peoples and provide alternative energy sources for Europe.The presence of the U.S. Secretary of State is important and shows that the U.S. supports this regional effort… in this partnership we would welcome not only the U.S. but also other countries”.

The recent $15 billion buyout of control of the Sinai pipeline between Israel and Egypt by Delek Drilling, Noble Energy and Egyptian East Gas could enable reverse-flow gas exports from Israel to Egypt in 2019. This development will also open the field for Israel to secure major European buyers for its gas. Off the record reports revealed that while mr. Netanyahu presented all the pipeline options -including the turkish one that seems to be the more optimum- he pointed the region’s map to mr. Pompeo and said: “This cannot happen ever, the pipeline won’t pass through Turkey.” Mr. Pompeo’s alleged answer was: “I fully understand you!”

However, aside from the significant talks of the Summit, mr. Netanyahu government’s main concern is the tough April 9th re-election contest, as the prime minister is embroiled in a corruption investigation and facing allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Mr. Pompeo, in comments to reporters on route to Jerusalem, dismissed the suggestion that his meeting with him could be seen as the United States intruding in the israeli election in support of mr. Netanyahu. Nevertheless, during Trillateral’s talks Netanyahu and Pompeo emphasized the closeness of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and vowed to deter Iranian threats to Israel, which is their primary concern in the region. The Israeli Prime Minister thanked the U.S. Secretary of State for the Trump administration’s support for Israel and the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, calling the decision “historic.”

CYPRUS: Replacing the lost Israeli strategic depth

President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades stated that: “We are delighted to have the U.S. Secretary of State with us. His presence is tangible proof that our three countries are a reliable partner in the U.S., particularly in the energy and security sectors, as well as a stability pillar in the Eastern Mediterranean. Our vision and actions for an Eastern Mediterranean energy corridor are an excellent example.”

Cyprus and Israel could become important partners in both gas and renewable energy issues, as well as on technology issues by exploiting their huge human resources. In this context, in an effort to reach an agreement over the terms of developing the Aphrodite gas field, President Anastasiades offered a bridging proposal during his meeting with Israeli PM Netanyahu. The reservoir first discovered by Noble Energy in 2011 is located 160 km south of Limassol and just 30 km northwest of Israel’s Leviathan gas field. Israel seeks a slice of future revenue by arguing that the Leviathan and Aphrodite reservoirs are part of the same geological formation. According to previous reports the Israeli side was asking for 5-6% whereas the Cypriot side was standing at 1% of future revenue. Mr. Anastassiades’ move has been coordinated with the companies involved, in order to reach a deal that would allow for immediate development of Block 12 gas reserves. Firms with working interest in Aphrodite are Delek Drilling which owns 30% stake, with Shell and Noble sharing 35% each.

Cyprus’ energy plans

The natural gas is going to function as a bridge fuel in the coming years in order to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources (RES), for which Cyprus system is not yet ready. The gas quantities needed for Cyprus to acquire its own land-based natural gas liquefication terminal, are estimated to about 12-15 tcf to make it competitive. Additionally, the eastern Mediterranean gas should be offered at competitive prices in order to be able to compete with Russian natural gas sold at very cheap prices due to the existing infrastructure and shale gas from the United States. However, the recent discoveries in the region are piling up and further exploration is planned, creating confidence that the interest will remain alive, despite the Turkish provocations trying to create conditions of instability in the region. Presently, some of the industry’s biggest companies are active in Cyprus’s EEZ, including Shell, Total, ENI, Exxon Mobil and Qatar Petroleum.

The presence of the U.S. sealed, as estimated, the decisions the three leaders made and acted as a response to the Turkish provocations. At the same time, both U.S. and E.U. favorite the defense-economic alliance, with a well-shaped military character between Israel, Cyprus and by extension Greece, aiming both to replace the strategic depth Israel lost after the termination of the defense cooperation with Turkey, and defend Cyprus’ rights and jurisdiction over the maritime areas of the island. Additionally, Nicosia has managed to secure its interests within the E.U., through the adoption of the Common Position by the 28 member-states. The Common Position of the “28” states that: “The E.U. Calls on Turkey to refrain from such unlawful actions, to which the E.U. will respond appropriately and in complete sympathy with Cyprus.”

There are many issues with Turkey that need to be addressed, such as the questioning of the Republic of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Turkey’s provocations are aiming to create destabilization conditions for the companies, so as not to come and invest in Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus, up to now, has been very careful in order not to engage in this game of destabilization and to proceed with its strategic plans in oil and gas. Should Cyprus accepted Turkish version of its EEZ it would be left with 30% of what it has today, ceding all of the discoveries, Aphrodite, Calypso, Glafkos, into other countries. It hopes that activities and discoveries in gas sector will act as an incentive to Turkey to sit down to the negotiating table to find a just solution to the Cyprus problem.

Following the Trilateral Summit, Cyprus’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Christodoulides had a three-day visit to Washington where reaffirmed the bilateral relations between Cyprus and the U.S., and that both sides want to further enhance their relations beginning from the implementation of the Statement of Intent that was signed in November. He, also, discussed about the agreement on the double taxation avoidance which encourages U.S. investments to the Republic of Cyprus, as well as the issue of the lifting of the U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus, which does not reflect the level of relations between the U.S. and the Republic of Cyprus, and the longstanding U.S. policy on resources in the Republic of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Cyprus Issue

Solving problems between a E.U. member with its neighbouring pseudo-state, is an endless procession and seems almost impossible. It’s been 45 years since the onset of Turkish occupation. And today, what we have is a half E.U. country. A Cyprus issue puzzle and a Turkish-speaking Cypriot community which is trying to exist in its homeland against all the oppression of Turkey, which is almost like a bloodless genocide. We have to underline one more time this last factor, since all main stakeholders in this game are trying to avoid it. We are talking about serious ethnic replacement activities by Turkey, which is and will be affecting destiny of the island forever, both in a social and a political way. This real subject does not come to the table often and everybody tries to ignore it while unreal “peace” negotiations go on for decades.

On the other hand, to proceed with the EastMed pipeline, or any other, plans all the stakeholders would prefer to see a solution to the Cyprus’ issue which will lead to the inclusion, of some sort, of Turkey in the final deal. Soon will see active initiatives towards the restart of the talks between the two communities.

Discussions and preparations for the day after have already started taking place in western capitals. This discussion is mainly centered on what might follow in case a Federal solution to the Cyprus problem is officially taken off the table. There are views that such a possibility is a nightmare scenario, pointing out that in case of an ultimate partition in Cyprus the E.U. would face an enormous challenge, with a de facto backdoor putting the safety in all of Europe at risk. In case of a finalized division in Cyprus, the regime that will prevail in the Northern part of the island will continue to be under the total control of Turkey and with no safeguards for the European Union. In short, a series of issues including refugees and the threat of extremist groups will be rendered outside E.U.’s control. In case of a finalized division therefore, it is almost certain that similar stories will cause headaches for the western diplomatic corps as well as intelligence gatherers in the E.U. This is so, because no current security measure or apparatus could ever guarantee safety along a vast buffer zone in a small island such as Cyprus, due to the fact that shutting down crossing points is not under consideration.

When Europe agreed to Cyprus’ accession into the Union, the island had a robust economy. And when a few years ago a financial crisis struck the whole of Europe including Cyprus, the island’s economy not only managed to recover but it also became an example of a success story for other European nations. Nevertheless, exactly how much of that normalcy is back in Cyprus, remains to be seen. In the financial domain, the recession of the last five years appears at first glance to be over, however issues of a systemic nature remain. The endurance of big businesses and the banking system are being tested. To summarize, the finalized partition and the gradual derailment in the developments in politics and the economy, is part of an “explosive mixture” according to assessments in western capitals. The perpetuation of the repercussions of the financial crisis, and the crisis within public institutions together, give serious pause to western powers, who are monitoring the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Cyprus.

GREECE: Aspiring to be an energy hub for the Balkans and Europe

Greece has exciting potential prospects in its ultra-deep waters and aspires to become an energy hub (gas and electricity) towards Italy and the Balkans, while also diversifying its own sources of supply. As a member of two Trilaterals with Cyprus, Israel, Egypt as well as the recently formed East Med Gas Forum (EMGF), Greece believes that natural gas plays a strategic role in the low-carbon energy transition of its economy. The Greek government supports the liberalisation and strengthening of the Greek natural gas market, aiming to connect it with the markets of the Balkans, Europe and East Mediterranean through major infrastructure projects:

  • Revythoussa is being upgraded and from November of 2018, an additional 95,000 c.m. LNG tank (the third in line) has been commissioned, increasing the terminal’s total storage capacity from 130,000 to 225,000 c.m. At the same time, the port reception facilities are being upgraded so as to accommodate vessels with a 260,000 c.m. capacity, compared to 135,000 c.m. in the past. The terminal’s divertive capacity has also being increased from 1,000 c.m./hour to 1,400 c.m./hour. Therefore, Revythoussa, which traditionally received Algerian LNG for the needs of the Greek market, has already received the first U.S. LNG shipment and will also be able to receive Eastern Mediterranean LNG via the Egyptian terminals.
  • The TAP pipeline, which starts from the Greek-Turkish border as an extension of TANAP, transporting gas from Azerbaijan through Turkey, crosses the Greek territory from East to West, also crossing Albania in the same direction, ending near the port of Durres, making an underwater crossing of the Adriatic to beach in the San Foca area of Southern Italy (near Lecce) and from there is connected to the Italian Gas Network. TAP, is at an advanced stage of construction with commercial operation planned to start in 2020.
  • The construction of the IGB pipeline, connecting the Greek and Bulgarian gas networks between Komotini (Northern Greece, Thrace) and Stara Zagora (Southern Bulgaria) is expected to commence in 2019 and commissioning is planned for the end of 2020.
  • The construction of the Alexandroupolis Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) is expected to start construction as soon as possible. This terminal shall receive LNG and following its regasification, it will be forwarded through TAP both to the Greek network and, via the TAP – IGB interconnector, to the Bulgarian national network and from there northwards to Romania, Serbia and in the future the rest of Eastern Europe.

Moreover, Greece aspires that the completion of the gas transport infrastructure to Italy and the Balkans will also be used in the future for the transportation of Greek gas reserves that exist in the offshore area to the South and West of Crete, which exhibits similar geological characteristics to that of the South Eastern Mediterranean, as well as the Ionian reserves. It is noted that data are collected and studied from areas south of Crete, in the southern Peloponnese and in the Ionian, SW of Paxoi, West of Corfu and West of Zakynthos. In some areas, for which positive data have been gathered, at least three years will be needed for technology to allow drilling at 3 km deep, which is the current technical and economic boundary of exploitations.

The interest of hydrocarbon research focuses the existing concessions that relate to eleven marine plots in Greece, for seven of which there are relevant Bills (Ioannina, Arta – Preveza, Aitoloakarnania, NW Peloponnese, Katakolo, Patraikos Gulf and the plot 2 west of Corfu). The remaining four, plot 10 in Kyparissia bay, the area in the Ionian that has been developed by EDEY and two areas between Peloponnese and Crete, are expected to be approved in the very near future. The first drillings should be expected early next year at the Gulf of Patras (HELPE and Edisson) and Katakolo (Energy-Aegean). Other areas that will be mature in two or three years are block 2 west of Corfu (Total – ELPE), and in three to four years the region of the Ionian (Repsol – ELPE), while three to five years from nowadays is expected to be required for the marine areas West and Southwest of Crete (Total – ExxonMobil – ELPE).

Finaly, Greece also hopes that the major energy interconnections (electricity-natural gas) shall lift Crete’s energy isolation, an island that annually costs €600-800 million -depending on international oil prices- to the Greek economy, as it utilises electricity produced from fuel oil.

Therefore, the EastMed project is extremely important. It will enable Israel, Cyprus and maybe Egypt, to export gas to Europe through Greece and Italy. Speaking about Greece, already all counties in the Balkans, Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, want to get Israeli gas through Greece. It will go through the vertical interconnector pipelines and the vertical corridor also to the Balkans. Greek companies are heavily involved in this. One is Energean, which became already a Greek-British-Israeli company developing one very important gas field in Israel and now also exploring two additional gas fields. The other one is Poseidon, which is a major contractor so far in planning and probably also in executing and constructing the EastMed pipeline that will stretch from Israel, through Cyprus to Greece and Italy. The fact that two Greek companies are so central to this new gas development in the EastMed project is very positive for the Greek economy.

During the 6th Trilateral Summit the Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras said that the three countries’ cooperation is strategic, especially in the areas of energy and security. He welcomed the U.S. support for this cooperation, noting that the presence of the U.S. Secretary of State strengthens efforts and dialogue on energy, security and the economy, as well as on the challenges ahead. The creation of the EastMed pipeline could also help the dialogue on security and economic development in the region. The vision is to create a safe energy transportation network from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe, from Israel, Cyprus, Greece, to Europe.

The Greek-Turkish equation

Despite Greece’s consistent efforts to limit tensions with Turkey over the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean by avoiding over-the-top reactions and statements, the climate remains restive. The regional elections in Turkey partly explained some of the excessive rhetoric from mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has generated fresh controversy by claiming that the Aegean Sea and Cyprus lie within Turkey’s territorial waters. Surely the timing of his remarks was no coincidence, being made just two days after the Trilateral Summit in Jerusalem. To Ankara, the Summit was part of what it believes to be a concerted effort to encircle Turkey, which now appears to be bent on entrenching its claims in the region.

The Greek-Turkish equation is not as easy, as some on both sides of the Aegean like to present it. Greece is a force to be reckoned with. It has never been described by experts as powerless or negligible in terms of military might, and it certainly is no “fly,” as one Turkish official said dismissively a few months ago. As a member-state of NATO -the third biggest spender on defense in terms of GDP- in a volatile region, hosting numerous military installations of its own and its allies, and with a significant Navy and Air Force, Greece has defense capabilities that should not be discounted (for more read “Energy Wars: The Security of the New Energy Routes in the South East Mediterranean”).

Its close relationship to the United States, which has recently developed a more strategic dimension, is another important parameter in the country’s efforts to bolster its defense capabilities. Moreover, it is steadily building and developing trilateral strategic cooperations with Israel and Egypt, which no one has the luxury of being able to ignore, particularly if they are in the same geographical area. What all of the above tells us is that Turkey stands to pay a high price in economic and political, as much as in strategic terms, over any overconfident plans and/of unfortunate actions. The runup to any election is always a period that lends itself to hyperbole for the sake of winning public favor, but when it comes down to brass tacks, Turkey has nothing to gain from such nationalist populism.

Although there are reports that the climate, between the Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Antalya’s recent meeting was rather tensioned, before and after the official joint statements mr. Katrougalos stated that Ankara should not be excluded from the unfolding energy game in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Greek Foreign Minister also expressed the hope that Greece and Turkey can boost understanding and ease tensions. “We do not believe in war between peoples,” said and expressed his hope in the beginning of a “…period of better understanding, the de-escalation of tension and the promotion of dialogue.” He also reiterated Greece’s support for Turkey’s European Union accession prospects, saying that it was in the interests of the E.U., the Turkish people and Greece to have “…a friendly European Turkey on our eastern border.”

Cavusoglu though, declared again that no energy project in the Eastern Mediterranean can go forward without Ankara’s approval, even as Katrougalos once again issued calls for the need to respect international law in pursuing a rapprochement. Cavusoglu’s pronouncement came one day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo along with the leaders of Cyprus, Israel, and Greece announced in a joint statement that they intend to guard against “malign influences” in the Eastern Mediterranean, a thinly veiled reference to Turkey. The Turkish Foreign Minister, also raised the tones regarding the Muslim minority in Thrace, which under the Treaty of Lausanne is recognised as a religious and not an ethnic minority and continued pressing Katrougalos for the return of the eight Turkish military officers that Ankara accuses of being involved in the 2016 abortive coup against Erdogan and who have been granted asylum in Greece. Ankara has declared a bounty on them, effectively inviting bounty-hunters to abduct them from Greek territory. Moreover, its recent activity in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, that coincided with the meeting between the two foreign ministers was interpreted in Athens as a message from Ankara underscoring its overall intentions in the region.

TURKEY: Feeling as outsider in the midst of recession and political tumoil

Turkey seems to be left outside of the energy developments’ game. To Ankara, Jerusalem’s Summit was part of what it believes to be a concerted effort to encircle Turkey, which now appears to be bent on entrenching its claims in the region. In line with Turkey’s President, Foreign and Defense Ministers, mr. Fatih Domez, Energy Minister, has also said that “…the Greek Cypriot side presents itself as the sole sovereign of the island. We have pointed out that we do not find it right to try to exploit the natural wealth for their own economic benefits. There is also the Turkish population, and their rights and interests must be protected”. At the same time, after mentioning that Turkey had begun explorations in Adana, warned that Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has in the same way determined areas, which has granted to the Turkish Petroleum Company and will performe exploratinos there.

In the claws of recession…

The inevitable has arrived: Turkey is in recession for the first time in a decade. Economists are troubled by the figures on the growth of the Turkish economy. While, according to the Turkish Statistical Service, the annual growth rate reached 2.6% in 2018, growth in the last two quarters had a negative sign and this is an indication that in 2019 this trend will continue. According to the figures, in the fourth quarter the Turkish economy shrank by 3%, while in the third quarter it shrank by 1.1%. Of great concern for the government is also the decrease in the per capita income in Turkey. In 2018 decreased to $9,632, while in 2013 had reached record levels of $12,480, from just $3,581 in 2002, a big success of the ruling AK Party since its rise to power. Moreover, inflation has exceeded 25%, bank interest rates are rising to 20%, hundreds of companies filed for protection from creditors, construction companies are considered to have reached one step from bankruptcy and the Turkish lira since the beginning of the year has fallen by 12% and almost 40% by 2017, while theTurkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak was arguing that “…Turkey has left the worst behind and that the economy will see better days”.

U.S. tariffs, the result of the ongoing tension between the two states owed to the insistence of Ankara that will honor its air defense deal with Russia, and shall proceed to the aquisition of the S-400 system, was one of the main factors that pushed Turkey into the recession. To counter high food prices, state-run stalls were selling cheap vegetables in Istanbul and Ankara, two of the critical battlegrounds during the recent nationwide local elections. Foreign investment has also suffered, with investors concerned by the Turkish president’s economic management, the erosion of the rule of law and the centralisation of power around a tight-knit circle.

Turkey’s contraction came at a terrible time. Eventually, the influence on the reduction of the Turkish national income proved to be overwhelming for the Turkish President. Mr. Erdogan who suffered a severe setback last weekend as his ruling AK Party lost control of the capital Ankara, for the first time in a local election, together with Izmir and other major urban centres of the country. With 99% of the ballot boxes counted, the joint opposition candidate for Ankara mayor was winning with 50.89% of votes and the AKP on 47.06% at last count. Meanwhile, in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and economic capital, the race for mayor was deadlocked with the AKP candidate having 48.4% of votes, however his opponent on 48.8% claimed that he was the actual winner. The final results are expected to be announced after the 3-5 days recounting of the votes.

After March 31st, mr. Erdogan will have a four-year stretch without elections. This offers time to reset foreign diplomatic and economic relations. No-one expects him to become a democratic reformer, but there is a chance for him to repair his country’s relationship with the West. As a NATO member that borders Iran, Iraq and Syria, Turkey is strategically vital partner for the U.S. as well as the E.U. Both Washington and those in European capitals are expected to show willingness to overlook Turkey’s democratic slide and focus on co-operation on trade, refugees and counterterror.

Many economic analysts estimate that Turkey’s economic future will be determined by U.S.-Turkey relations especially. Perhaps that is why mr. Erdogan in his televised interview said that after the elections, he will either go meet with Donald Trump or the American President will visit Turkey. However, the first trip abroad is expected to be in Moscow in early April. The latest development, of the U.S. decision in the F-35 dispute, came as an additional blow a day after Erdogan suffered one of his biggest electoral losses in decades in local elections. The issue of the buy of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system and the way Ankara will handle it, will determine future relations with the U.S. and the economic future of the country, which is in direct need of new investments.

The Jerusalem’s Summit Aftermath

As a result of the good climate and the positive conclusions, as well as the strong meaningful messages that emanated from the Jerusalem’s Summit, there are initiatives for more Trilateral Summits between most of the regional stakeholder-states. In this context, the more matured is the 2nd Trilateral Summit between Cyprus, Greece and Jordan, that will take place on April 14th in Amman, just over a year following the first in January 2018 in Nicosia.

During their first meeting last year, the leaders of Cyprus, Greece and Jordan decided to establish a trilateral partnership and agreed on its guiding principles, stressing that the three countries’ partnership was not exclusionary, nor directed against any country. Furthermore, it is established on the basis of full respect of international law and of the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, the UN Security Council Resolutions, including commitment to good neighbouring relations, international peace and security and respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of states.

According to information, another Trilateral Summit among Cyprus, Greece and Palestine will probably take place in April as well in Athens, and another between Cyprus, Greece and Lebanon is scheduled to take place, at foreign ministers’ level, in Beirut on April 10th.

Furthermore, efforts for a trilateral cooperation meeting between Cyprus, Greece and Egypt with the ad hoc participation of France (formation 3+1) similar to the Jerusalem’s is underway, upgrading its interests in the region while it studies its Navy’s permanent presence at Cyprus’ Mari port. This is not a coincidence due to the fact that the Total-ENI concortium has started negotiations with Cyprus’ government about the cession of Block 7 and Total is in negotiations for Block 8 accordingly.


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