Thursday

24th Sep 2020

Cyprus blocking EU sanctions on Belarus

  • Cyprus' 'technical' objection to Belarus sanctions linked to Turkey clash in Meditteranean, diplomats said (Photo: William John Gauthier)

Cyprus is holding hostage EU sanctions on Belarus in return for a new Turkey blacklist, EU sources have said, as Greek and Turkish ministers traded harsh words in the European Parliament (EP).

The Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, agreed, along with the 26 other EU leaders at a summit in August, to impose visa bans and asset freezes on Belarusian officials guilty of violence and election rigging.

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But in recent days, his diplomats in Brussels imposed a so-called "scrutiny reservation" on the move - a temporary veto - on grounds they needed to carry out technical checks before going ahead.

Most member states have not been told what Anastasiades really wants.

But some capitals have been given a new set of Turkish names he wants to add to an existing EU blacklist on Ankara over its oil and gas drilling in disputed Cypriot waters.

"They [the Cypriots] said they're checking details [on Belarus], but they're not really checking anything," an EU source told EUobserver.

"They just want the others to agree to their new Turkey list first," the source said.

"They're trying to link the two issues, to adopt the Belarus and Turkey sanctions as a package", a second EU source said.

A compromise was expected next week, the source added.

But a third EU source said Anastasiades was "unlikely" to get what he wanted.

One reason was because "at this stage, defusing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean is of greater importance", the source said.

But a second reason was because some EU capitals felt sympathy for Turkey's views.

The broader Mediterranean clash was "a very difficult territorial dispute based on competing claims that haven't been resolved yet," the EU source told this website.

And Anastasiades' tactics were making him unpopular, the source indicated.

"It's weird to agree to something [Belarus sanctions] at the highest political level and then to tie your agreement to a completely different political situation [the Turkey dispute]," the EU diplomat said.

Cypriot denial

The Belarus crisis has seen thousands of pro-democracy activists arrested, beaten, and tortured.

The Mediterranean one has seen Turkey send military convoys into Cypriot-claimed waters and, more recently, to Greece-claimed waters, prompting Greece to scramble its navy.

For its part, Cyprus denied it was trying to link Belarus and Turkey.

"We categorically deny that we have threatened to block the Belarus sanctions unless there is a tough package on Turkey. Cyprus from the very beginning recognised the gravity of the situation on Belarus," a Cypriot source told this website.

There was EU "political consensus" for "both sanctions procedures, for Belarus and the eastern Mediterranean, to move swiftly ahead, in parallel," the source added.

"It is standard practice for member states to study proposed listings and it is simply wrong to interpret the fact that we are currently studying the proposals made only a few days ago as an intention to block," the Cypriot source said.

Meanwhile, the Greek deputy foreign minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, told MEPs in Brussels on Thursday that Athens wanted to resolve the Mediterranean problems via "dialogue".

But he said Turkey must first withdraw its navy from nearby a Greek island.

Varvitsiotis also called for new EU sanctions "designed to make the people of Turkey put pressure on their government to change course".

In the meantime, the Greek military would not be cowed, he added.

"We're going to defend ourselves alone if we have to," he said.

There were 700 Greek inhabitants on the island beside the Turkish naval operation, he noted, and "we're not going to say to these people: 'Listen you're not Greeks anymore. You don't live in Greece'."

Varvitsiotis held up a map of Turkish maritime claims which showed they amounted to control of half the Aegean Sea.

And he accused Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of "revisionist" territorial claims.

"He [Erdoğan] is trying to cultivate a populist, nationalist, and Islamic front and we should never forget that," Varvitsiotis said.

Exceedingly polemical?

Most MEPs voiced solidarity.

But at least one, German Green Reinhard Bütikofer, found Varvitsiotis "exceedingly polemical".

And when the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, spoke to the same EP committee later on Thursday, he held up his own map, which showed that Greek island maritime claims would mean Turkey "had no access to international waters" in the eastern Mediterranean.

"Please, no more flags and maps," the committee chair, German centre-right MEP David McAllister, said after some EU deputies objected to having Çavuşoğlu's graphics on the EP video-screen.

"If you have no patience to see reality, I don't have to show it, frankly speaking," Çavuşoğlu replied.

"I'm proud of my ancestors' [Ottoman] empire, but we have no intention to establish a state like this," he said, rebutting the Greek accusation on "revisionism".

"Our warships have clear orders from the president of Turkey not to fire first", Çavuşoğlu noted, but he urged Greece not to "harass" his vessels.

And Turkey's top diplomat warned the EU against "blind solidarity" with its member states, no matter if they were right or wrong, in signs the dispute was getting worse.

"By defending one side, the EU has become a party to the conflict," Çavuşoğlu said.

This article was updated at 9.30AM on 11 September to add the quotes from the Cypriot source

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