According to Greek mythology, the goddess of love, Aphrodite, came from the waters of Cyprus, symbolizing eternal beauty and love. The island of Cyprus has been strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa for thousands of years, but geopolitics have never been calm in the region. From Antiquity to the Middle Ages, 19th Century and early 20th Century national liberation movements, World War I and World War II, the Cold War, and more recently, with the civil war in Syria and the rise and fall of ISIS, the island has been at the centre of many conflicts.
In geopolitical narratives, Cyprus is often referred to as the “Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier of the Mediterranean,” and if its potential is fully utilized, it may play a significant role as a game changer in the regional power game. Cyprus’ capacity to control a large maritime area that includes Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt is essential to consider. In 2003, Cyprus and Egypt were the first to delimit their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), and similar agreements were made with Lebanon and Israel. These agreements include procedures for dealing with overlapping hydrocarbon resources. The EEZ delimitation agreement signed by Greece and Egypt in 2020 also follows this model.
We should not overlook the Eastern Mediterranean’s energy resources in the form of natural gas, which is abundant. This is an opportunity for more economic growth, technology transfers, and a more robust military positioning for Cyprus, whose EEZ is eleven times larger than its land area. As a result of the war in Ukraine that began fifteen months ago, Europe is quickly disengaging from the Russian gas line. The potential of extracting gas from the Mediterranean under the stewardship of Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Egypt has not been missed in Europe or the Middle East.
What makes Cyprus even more important is Washington’s focus on East Asia, as Beijing challenges the United States’ power in the Pacific. Tension between China and Taiwan is a focal point, and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which includes India, Australia, and Japan, is one outcome of the United States’ renewed vigour in the Pacific.
On May 3, newly elected Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides met French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace in Paris, where they reaffirmed the two countries’ excellent relations. Paris and Nicosia have mutual interests, and their bilateral collaboration could become much stronger in the coming years for various reasons. The French president also emphasized the high level of military cooperation between Cyprus and France.
Aside from politics, Christodoulides met with the top management of TOTAL energy business in Paris to discuss already licensed slots in Cypriot seas.
France already has a significant presence in the region, using the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and its fleet primarily to highlight its presence in the East Mediterranean Sea and defend its own national interests. Military collaboration with Cyprus appears to be growing stronger by the day. Meanwhile, an old project has recently resurfaced. The possibility of extending the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base in Mari has been discussed in the past, including in 2019 with Florence Parly, the former French minister of defence. However, it appears that the COVID-19 epidemic put everything on ice, at least for a while.
This time, the expansion of the naval base may be tied to the EU’s Permanent Structure Cooperation (PESCO) policy, providing a new dimension to the project.
After all, an extended Evangelos Florakis Naval Base can be used by French, American, Egyptian, and Israeli battleships, assisting allied countries in strengthening their connection.
The results of the first round of presidential elections, as well as those of the legislative elections, reveal that a profound transformation has occurred in Turkish society over the last twenty years. The Eurasian vision may see Turkey continue play a key role between the East and the West, especially as a conduit between Russia and the United States. Turkey still aspires to become a major economic and military power. From a geopolitical standpoint, this notion assumes a posture of dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and transformed Turkish interests in Africa and the Middle East as it retraces the Ottoman empire’s historic borders in those countries.
However, Turkey’s expansionary vision, is challenged by the unresolved Cypriot issue born of its 1974 invasion of the island and its occupation of the north of Cyprus; Turkey’s maritime disputes over Greek islands which it claims; major economic crisis due from government mismanagement and the recent and tragic earthquake which killed over 40,000 people and again has been partly blamed on government corruption and bad planning. An increasingly powerful Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could make Greece, and Cyprus again much needed scapegoats for internal political gain.
Cyprus has a strong hand if it focuses on its pivot to Israel on the one hand and Greece on the other, as it builds new regional partnerships and consolidates current ones. This could be the best way to proceed in the next few years, considering how unpredictable the twenty-first century may be from one day to the next.
Dr George Tassiopoulos is a Greek French political scientist, with a doctorate in political science from the University of East Paris. He was born in Athens, and has lived in France for the past 20 years where he teaches geopolitics in a business school in Paris.