The Energy Wars of Turkey and the Thucydidean Trap of Greece

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


by Panayiotis Tilliros 

The Energy Wars of Turkey and the Thucydidean Trap of Greece[1]

  1. Turkey’s aggression against Cyprus and the inability / unwillingness of the international community and the actors involved to react

On 5.2.2018, Turkey invaded Cyprus again with the issuance of the illegal and void Navtex 0153/18 aimed at preventing the Saipem 12000 drillship of the Italian company ENI from proceeding with the planned exploratory drilling for natural gas on the target cuttlefish in offshore Block 3 of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC). On 10.3.2018 Turkey issued a new invalid navigational warning surrounding Cyprus’s east, south, and western coasts for the period 22-29 March 2018, in furthering its efforts to disrupt the RoC hydrocarbon program. Evidently, proactive measures were not taken in time, although Turkey’s attitude towards Hellenism is predictable. There has been a repository of hopes in emotional fallacies, although international relations must be seen and analyzed through the model of absolute realism.

If Ankara had encountered determination to face its provocations, then it would certainly have revised its position and not been able to achieve strategic objectives and war results without firing a shot. Unfortunately Cyprus has found itself alone again. Neither the European Union (EU), which has legitimate interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East region, not limited to energy, nor powerful Member States such as France and Italy were willing to exercise an assertive foreign policy, evidently because their interests with Turkey are judged to be greater. Some kind of practical engagement from France at least could have been expected given its colonial past, historical legacy in the region and its pivotal role in the EU.  

From Britain, which is the guarantor of the RoC[2], nothing more could have been expected than the hypocritical keeping of apparently equal distances in breach of its guarantee obligations in the face of Turkey’s aggression and the violation of the sovereign rights of Cyprus. In fact, British policy remains totally pro-Turkish within the framework of the ever-applied “divide and rule” doctrine, so that the RoC can never have real independence or adopt policies against the interests of Britain. The United States (US) stressed the right of Cyprus to develop its EEZ resources to be shared “equitably” between both communities. The term “equitably” is open to interpretation. Mutatis mutandis this does not differ much from the British stance despite Washington being currently at odds with Turkey on various issues. Russia expressed the hope that all interested states will act in accordance with international law regarding Cyprus’ EEZ. Putin’s geostrategic objectives go beyond even those of the Soviet Union. In this case Moscow intends to acquire a sphere of influence in the Middle East and the Mediterranean (Syria, Egypt, Libya), weakening NATO’s southern flank. Russia’s additional objective is to delay as long as possible the alternative “Fifth Corridor” natural gas supplies to Europe from the East Med, enabling Europe to diversify away from Russia. These goals explain the current honeymoon with Turkey in which Moscow has huge economic and commercial interests. The United Nations once again avoided their responsibility washing their hands like Pontius Pilate, despite their very own Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982) being trampled upon by Ankara, thus rewarding its violation of international law.

For Turkey, the invasion of Cyprus’s EEZ has remained a small, low-tension crisis without having to escalate it in order to achieve its goals. Turkey tested the reactions of the international community and especially of Greece, knowing that the potential of Cyprus to counter its aggression is minimal. The lack of practical support for Nicosia from the countries/actors concerned does not augur positive developments for the subsequent energy program of the RoC, although Ankara is not expected to dare harass the US Exxon-Mobil exploratory drilling in offshore block 10 in the second half of 2018. Once again it is confirmed that diplomacy without force has zero value or expected benefit.

  1. Objectives of the invasion of Turkey in Cyprus’s EEZ

Ankara’s warship piratical act of obstructing the RoC exploration for natural gas has the following strategic objectives:

  1. To stop the hydrocarbons exploration program of the RoC and further to prevent hydrocarbon exploitation.
  2. To claim a significant part of the EEZ of the RoC in violation of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  3. To become a co-owner of the energy wealth of Cyprus under the pretext of the Turkish Cypriots and blackmail the RoC to change its energy policy in a direction serving Turkey’s goal of becoming an energy hub itself.
  4. To grab the energy wealth of the RoC and to channel it through a pipeline to Turkey, imposing its own conditions and terms on prices and making Cyprus hostage, although Cyprus has much better export options.
  5. To effectively compel the international oil companies (IOCs) involved in the RoC hydrocarbon exploration and production program to negotiate with Turkey through a so-called hydrocarbons co-management committee with the Turkish Cypriots, utilizing the 1960 Constitution on an à la carte basis.
  6. To humiliate and draw at the negotiating table a fully-weakened President of the RoC in order to impose upon him the terms for the solution of the Cyprus problem on the basis of essentially a condominium with Turkey via the Turkish Cypriots in a confederation. Gas will be part of the solution preferred by Turkey at the negotiating table. Even worse, Ankara is currently geared towards the monopolization of Cyprus’s hydrocarbons without finding a solution to the Cyprus problem, even though Cyprus’s energy wealth was presented until recently as an incentive for Turkey acquiescing to a fairer solution. It is underlined that Turkey will not accept the withdrawal of all Cyprus occupying troops, nor abandon its role as a “guarantor” unless there is international pressure. Ankara’s current intimidation is an omen of how much “freedom” the Cypriot people will have in the proposed confederation under Turkish suzerainty.
  7. To abolish the RoC with the proposed solution and transform it not just into a satellite within its own sphere of influence but into a colony. Already in the northern part of Cyprus occupied since July 1974, Tukey has installed hundreds of thousands of settlers as part of its progressive ethnic cleansing and eventually complete occupation of Cyprus, based on the Ismail Nihat Erim Report of 1956.
  8. To turn the Levantine Basin into a Turkish lake, using coercion tactics and to demonstrate at international level that it is the regional hegemon in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
  9. To prevent other great and regional powers from gaining access or a decisive role in the region’s energy resources except under its own terms and time framework.
  1. Conclusions for Cyprus and Greece from Turkey’s neo-ottoman revisionism / imperialism

The East Med gas constitutes a viable, secure and independent alternative corridor for European demand and diversification needs. It can be a «game changer» for Europe at least to the extent that the stronger countries of the European Union decide that they will not allow Turkey to monopolize the situation.

Cyprus primarily and Greece have entered the global energy map. The energy reserves of Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean are the most important, if not the only, trump card available to the RoC to help play an important role in the European Union and find a fairer solution to the Cyprus problem. If Greece really wants to have a role in the Eastern Mediterranean and the new energy game by constructing the East Med gas pipeline then it should dynamically assert its claims as Turkey does. Only the country capable of taking the initiative and demonstrate hard power will be effective in the control over energy corridors and export options.

I have analyzed in another article as well as a university dissertation[3] that the East Med gas pipeline is not the best export option for Cypriot natural gas deposits. The optimal economic and geopolitical choice is the Natural Gas Liquefaction Terminal, which is now possible with the recent discovery of the Calypso reservoir (block 6), including the existing Aphrodite (block 12) reserves, but also certain future discoveries (block 10 etc.).

Under no circumstances should the Turkish extortion be conceded to either co-manage or freeze the energy program of the RoC until the Cyprus problem is resolved. It is right to take steps and initiatives within the European Union and the United Nations without expecting however that such actions will expel the Turks from the Cypriot EEZ unless hard power is projected. Turkey will pull back provided it “feels the force”. The most recent proof of that is its latest Navtex which skirts the offshore block 10 where the American IOC Exxon-Mobil plans drilling. On the world chessboard, geostrategic control of resources is exercised by the actors / states that have and are willing to exert power and not their legitimate owners. If Greece and Cyprus are to be able to enjoy their energy endowments, the modification of the balance of power and the correlation of forces and means in their favour is a sine qua non.

International law is not a guarantee of protection for the weak. The current huge strategic deficits of Greece, its turcophobia and defeatism bring it only insults and repeated defeats across the board and not just in the Aegean Sea. Ever since Ioannis Kapodistrias, the charismatic and illustrious first Governor of Greece who attempted to build a proper-functioning state, was assassinated on 9.10.1831, Greece has been trying to find its way to the seemingly impossible. The persistent policy of supposedly securing “peace” by retreating before all Turkish provocations and accepting from a position of military weakness unacceptable national compromises, like the 1996 Imia Agreement, simply turns Greece into a satellite through the process of finlandisation. The Cypriot people have had enough of so-called “red lines” declared just for public consumption, which are simply forgotten whenever trespassed by Turkey with further erosion of any deterrent credibility.

Hellenism and Greece now face a stark choice before the Turkish neo-ottoman threat: either pursue a realist militarized strategy geared towards reestablishing the balance of power the soonest possible and altering the exclusively defensive doctrine of the deployment of forces; or follow the already-tried-and-failed alternative liberal logic (a great fallacy in this case) that seeks to promote long-term peace through closer economic, social and political ties and involves relinquishing all national assets and capitulating to Turkey.

With its constant inaction, Greece has been caught in the Thucydidean trap of a rising Turkey. The continuous erosion of the balance of power has reached a point that will eventually make war inevitable. Hellenism will enter into a situation of «vae victis», as the Gauls dictated to the defeated Romans. Even the self-evident doctrine «If you want peace prepare for war / Si vis pacem, para bellum», upon which the Roman Empire rose, is overlooked. War does not necessarily mean catastrophe if one is well prepared and determined. It has not yet been comprehended that in the ambiguous but realistic Orwellian world of the political and international chessboard peace can mean war and war peace.

Article by Panayiotis Tilliros

  1. (Economist, International Relations Analyst / Expert in Economic and Energy Issues).
  2. Research Associate at the Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs which is affiliated with the University of Nicosia.
  3. Doctoral candidate.

University Titles

1.     B.Sc. degree in Political Science and Economics, London School of Economics, UK.
2.     M.Sc. degree in Comparative Government, LSE, UK.
3.     Postgraduate Diploma in Economics (distinction), UCL, UK.
4.     M.Sc. degree in Monetary and Financial Economics, University of Cyprus.
5.     MA degree in International Relations and European Studies with a concentration on energy security issues (oil and gas) (Summa Cum Laude), University of Nicosia.

[1] More extensive analysis can be found at the following web links:οι-ενεργειακοί-πόλεμοι-της-τουρκίας-και-η-θουκυδίδεια-παγίδα-της-ελλάδας/

[2] The Treaty of Guarantee is a treaty between the Republic of Cyprus, Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom promulgated in 1960. Article II requires the other parties to guarantee the independence, territorial integrity and the security of Cyprus.

[3] Follow web links: