The EU's 'tolerance' and 'double standards' with Turkey embolden Erdoğan, claims Cyprus President

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By Efi Koutsokosta  & Jorge Liboreiro
Cyrpus President Nicos Anastasiades said the EU displayed "double standards" between Turkey and Russia.
Cyrpus President Nicos Anastasiades said the EU displayed "double standards" between Turkey and Russia.   -  Copyright  European Union, 2022.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has denounced the European Union's "double standards" and "tolerance" towards Turkey, arguing it emboldens Ankara to disregard international law and risks triggering a new conflict in the continent.

In an interview with Euronews, Anastasiades harshly criticised Turkey's actions and called out his fellow EU leaders for limiting their solidarity with Nicosia to just "words."

For Anastasiades, the EU's multiple political and economic links with Turkey allow the country to retain its status of candidate to join the bloc, granting Ankara a sort of diplomatic shield.

Turkey's accession has gone through many diplomatic ups and downs and is today virtually frozen.

"It is not possible for us [the EU] to say that Russia is violating international law, but when international law is violated by a candidate country against other members of the European Union, we pretend that we do not understand the significance," Anastasiades said.

"It is this tolerance that emboldens [Turkey] and creates the risk of a new conflict in Europe."

Tensions between Cyprus and Turkey

The president's critical comments focused on the decades-long and unresolved Cyprus dispute, which dates back to 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at unifying the island with Greece.

Numerous rounds of talks under the auspices of the United Nations have taken place in a bid to achieve a diplomatic solution but have all ended in failure.

A Turkish Cypriot breakaway "state" is recognised only by Turkey, while the Republic of Cyprus has an internationally recognised government led by Greek Cypriots.

Cyprus has been a full-time EU member state since 2004. But the longstanding territorial conflict has prevented the country from joining the passport-free Schengen Area, as well as NATO.

Tensions around the island increased after Erdoğan unveiled last month plans to reinforce Turkey's military presence in the northern region.

The dispute, Anastasiades said, was raised by French President Emmanuel Macron during last week's meeting of the European Political Community, a new forum that gathered more than 40 European leaders in Prague.

Anastasiades claims that when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took the floor, he emphasised the need to preserve "sovereign equality," an implicit reference to a two-state solution, which Cyprus and the EU oppose.

"I wonder why he was given the floor in the first place," the Cypriot president said.

While in Prague, Anastasiades said, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel offered to host talks between Nicosia and Ankara but Erdoğan said it was not the right time.

At the end of the meeting, Erdoğan told reporters that Turkey needed to "secure Northern Cyprus from all sides, from all aspects," including by sending drones to the region. The Turkish government did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Anastasiades, who wants to restart the stalled talks, rebuked the Turkish leader's approach.

"You cannot invoke international law and, at the same time, interpret it as you wish, threatening to violate the sovereignty of Greek islands, for example, or to violate United Nations resolutions on the Cyprus dispute," he said.

"In other words, the constant efforts to create new fait accompli within Cyprus, the constant threats against Greece, cannot go unnoticed by the European Union."

The Turkish government did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Anastasiades bemoans the EU's 'double standards'

Throughout the interview with Euronews, Anastasiades juxtaposed the EU's reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine with the EU's reaction to the ongoing tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

"Interests cannot take precedence over principles and values," Anastasiades said, referring to the existing trade and financial links between the bloc and Turkey.

"We cannot say that we are currently making sacrifices to help Ukraine – and rightly so – to cope with the illegal invasion and violation of its territorial integrity and, at the same time, we put our interests first in our relations with Turkey."

Asked if he was disappointed by the response from his fellow European leaders, Anastasiades said he was "bitter" and bemoaned "double standards" of the international community, including the EU and the UN, with regard to Turkey and Russia.

Russia has been the target of severe international criticism since it launched its war in Ukraine, although some countries, like China and India, have refused to take a clear position. Russia has also been slapped with a number of sanctions by Western countries.

Last week, the EU approved another package of sanctions, including the legal basis to introduce an international price cap on the maritime trade of Russian oil. Cyprus, alongside Greece and Malta, raised concerns about the proposed cap and the potential implications for their domestic shipping industries.

The concerns were addressed during negotiations and the package was endorsed with a prohibition to provide services to any Russian cargo that sells oil above the G7 cap, regardless of the flag it carries.

Anastasiades appeared satisfied by the compromise and said the attention should turn to countries – "friendly countries that belong to the European political family" – that might be circumventing the sanctions or helping the Kremlin to do so.

"I will be more specific: I am talking about Turkey, which even facilitates the export of products such as Russian steel to Europe via Turkey," Anastasiades said.

"Let us look at the invitations that the Turkish government is extending to Russian oligarchs, to host Russian vessels, etc., and in general at Turkey's entire behaviour, which, on the one hand, weakens the [EU] sanctions, while on the other hand, it makes it easier for other countries to follow the same course."

A European Commission spokesperson said the latest package of sanctions included a provision to blacklist those accused of circumventing the measures.

“We keep stressing to partners the importance to align with our sanction or at least not to allow Russia to circumvent those sanctions,” the spokesperson said.

“The EU foreign policy is the result of unanimity among member states, so it is what all member states agree, including Cyprus.”