In the midst of Vladimir Putin's busy visit to Turkey, he surprised everyone by declaring that the South Stream project has been abandoned. Most discussion concerning his visit focused on the issue of gas transportation, but another, perhaps more important declaration on the Cypriot problem went unnoticed. There is a serious political problem between Turkey and Greek Cyprus regarding the exploration and commercialization of seabed natural gas reserves. There is no actual plan as to how and when (or if) these reserves can be commercialized. Still, the Greek Cypriot authorities have jumped at the opportunity, heralding it almost as the discovery of a new El Dorado, which will heal all the problems of their dysfunctional (half) state.
By provoking Turkey and the Northern Turkish Republic of Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot government and political parties have sabotaged talks on the island's reunification that were well on the way. From a Turkish and a UN viewpoint, these inter-communal talks are the best chance to re-unite the island, which has remained divided for the last 40 years. But once again, the Greek Cypriot political elite is mistaken, thinking that they could bring together a coalition made up of Israel, Egypt and Russia in order to make life very difficult for Turkey in the Mediterranean. Ahead of the visit, Putin was quoted in the Turkish press as saying that "neither the Russian state nor the energy ministry are involved in any gas projects in Cyprus." He added: "It is up to private companies to deal with the process, if there is one. They need to know that it will be their own responsibility to deal with any crisis or risks there."
This statement should have been at the very center of Greek Cypriot media reports. But the surprise has been so total that the press has almost refused to comment on it. A government spokesperson has declared that the Russian Embassy will be asked to "clarify" Putin's stance, as if there was not enough clarity already. In Ankara, Putin and Erdoğan signed a protocol on energy cooperation; the two countries hope they can reach $100 billion in annual bilateral trade by 2020. This is a hugely important move.
On the other hand, a new pipeline will be constructed to carry 63 bcm of natural gas, which is above Turkey's needs. In addition, Turkey has links with Azerbaijan for Caspian natural gas, which means that Russia has decided to treat Turkey as a new player, as a "competing hub" for gas distribution. Turkey will send most of this gas to Southern Europe via Greece, which finds itself a convenient outlet as the continuation of the distribution network. Prime Minister Davutoğlu is visiting Athens to revive commercial and political ties. Everyone in the region understands the new distribution of roles in the region, which will continue for at least 30 years to come, as well as the prominent role played by Turkey in this distribution.
Everyone that is, except Greek Cyprus... Time is running out, so it would be a good idea for the Greek Cypriot authorities to come to their senses and establish a workable solution on the island and subsequently normalize their relations with Turkey.