Archive for category EU

Crimean Tatars — Persecuted and Harassed

Since Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March, the situation of the Crimean Tatars has significantly deteriorated. They are in an increasingly perilous position with Russia and the illegal Crimean authorities engaged in a campaign of repression, persecution and harassment. The latest example took place earlier this week when the building of the Crimea Tatars’ self-governing body, the Mejlis, was impounded by Russia’s Federal Bailiffs Service.

When Crimea was annexed by Russia from the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century, the oppressed Tatars fled in a mass emigration. During 1944, Stalin deported the entire Tatar population, of which some 45 percent died of disease, hunger and thirst. Most of the Tatars presently living in Crimea repatriated after Ukraine became independent and have remained staunchly pro-Ukrainian during the last two decades. The majority of the Tatar community, which numbers some 300,000 (12 percent of the peninsula’s population), was horrified by Russia’s invasion, fearing a return to repressive days of the past.

While Moscow launched a charm offensive promising Tatars expanded rights, this was no more than lip service. Most Tatars boycotted the March 16 illegal referendum on the “status of Crimea,” fully supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity. They also boycotted Russian local elections held on Sept. 14.

Over the last six months their freedoms and rights have been repeatedly attacked. According to a report by Amnesty International earlier this year, “Tatar activists have been detained and ill-treated by groups of armed men and, in one case, killed; the informal leader of the Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian MP, Mustafa Jemilev, was banned and prevented from entering his homeland for five years; scores of Tatars have been prosecuted for taking part in peaceful protests; the Mejlis, has been threatened with dissolution; Tatars are under pressure to give up their Ukrainian citizenship and take Russian passports or face becoming foreigners in their own land or be exported.”

They have also broadly prohibited the Tatars from celebrating their holidays and remembering the victims of political repressions; they are harassed by secret services and “self-defense forces” that search homes, offices and mosques.

Tatar university students are being forced to apply for Russian citizenship and passports with the threat of not receiving their diplomas if they don’t. Certain Islamic books, including school educational books, previously considered legal under the Ukrainian law, have been banned. Other senior leaders in the community, such as Refat Chubarov, have been expelled. Today, up to 8,000 Crimean Tatars have already fled to Ukraine.

Jemiliev, who Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko appointed as his representative on Crimean Tatar affairs in August, has reportedly been told by the Russian Federal Migration Service that he is “persona non grata.” The self-appointed “Prime Minister of the Crimean Republic,” Sergei Aksyonov claims that Jemilev intentionally provokes trouble, stating, “There is no doubt that this man — Jemilev — was given the task by his masters, Western intelligence agencies, to destabilize the situation in Crimea.”

Such accusations are ludicrous. Crimean Tatars are a peaceful people who have never taken up arms or engaged in extremist activity. To underline this fact, on May 6, Poland awarded its first “Solidarity Prize” to Jemilev for his ongoing contributions to peace, democracy and human rights.

In a report published in July, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) notes that none of its recommendations had been implemented in Crimea at present under Russian occupation. All issues remain current, in particular “harassment and discrimination against ethnic Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, representatives of religious minorities, minority groups in general and activists who opposed the March 16 ‘referendum’ in Crimea.”

While this article may have focused on Crimea’s Tartars, let us not forget that many proud ethnic Ukrainians have also chosen to remain in their homeland, despite the fact that they are constantly intimidated, enduring crude violations of basic human rights.

The attacks and prosecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate is a powerful example. Some priests have been forced to sign papers on cooperation with the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). This is like a return to the communist era, when the KGB exerted influence on clergymen. The arrest of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and three other activists, who were transferred to Russia on terrorism charges, is another example. This situation seems set to deteriorate and more must be done by the international community.

(This article was first published by Today’s Zaman)

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Applying the rule of law in Georgia

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was recently indicted by the Prosecutor of Georgia for abuse of power, embezzlement of state funds and human rights violations. Saakashvili’s supporters in the West have been quick to defend the former president and his co-defendants and to claim that the charges are politically-motivated. The EPP called them “unjustified”(1); US Republican Senators called them “unnecessary”(2). Back home officials from the opposition UNM, such as David Bakradze, have argued the move “will bring more confrontation and polarization to Georgian society”.

As advised by the EEAS, Georgia certainly needs to “move beyond past conflicts and to focus on the country’s future,”(3) but in order to move forward and to consolidate democracy and rule of law in Georgia, these prosecutions may well need to run their course. I cannot comment on the strength of the Prosecutor’s case against Saakashvili; indeed, that prerogative belongs to the courts. It should be noted however that the cases being investigated are far from trivial. The most serious charges relate to a violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in November 2007 and a parallel raid and closure of a private television station. Both these acts drew widespread international condemnation. Human Rights Watch said the government had “crossed the line when police chased and beat peaceful demonstrators, and threatened and intimidated journalists”(4). The UN Human Rights Committee only last month reiterated its call for Georgian authorities to ensure that those responsible for these abuses are held duly accountable before the law(5).

The Georgian Dream coalition was elected in 2012 on a pledge to do precisely that. The prosecutor’s office was deluged with complaints alleging corruption, illegal expropriation of property and even cases of torture by officials in the previous government. A National Democratic Institute survey carried out in May 2014 demonstrated that dealing with these cases continues to be a high priority for Georgian voters (59% said they approve of the prosecutions of former officials (6)). Given that the EU and US have insisted for years on the importance of the rule of law, telling the Georgians now that it is in their best interest to just let it go and “move on” naturally does not go down so well. Georgian officials point to recent examples of high-level prosecutions in Europe (e.g. Berlusconi and Sarkozy) and ask why what is considered a hallmark of democracy in Western Europe should be rebranded as “political persecution” once past the Eastern borders of Schengen.

They have a point. Georgian democracy is young, and far from flawless. But, as noted by the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Georgian Parliament in letters to the EPP and US Senators, suggestions that the charges are politically motivated represent very serious allegations and must be substantiated by concrete evidence. However, to the best of my knowledge, Mr. Japaridze, has yet to receive a response.

In July 2013, Commissioner Füle said: “The EU fully respects the pledge of the new government to the Georgian people to address any legacies of the past, and we trust that this will be done in full conformity with Georgia’s international obligations and European values. Ensuring that justice is fair and free of any political interference is of paramount importance, but of course without allowing impunity either(7).” This is a fair statement. Only two months ago Georgia signed an Association Agreement with the EU and committed to a comprehensive realignment of its regulations and standards with those of the EU. If the Georgian authorities can deliver a process which is “transparent, proportionate, free of political motivation, and adhering strictly to due process,”(8) they will have passed a key democratic test. If they do not, then the consequences of this will duly follow. However, there can be no question of double standards. The rule of law applies to all – even former Presidents.

1. http://www.epp.eu/georgia-epp-concerned-about-charges-against-former-president-mikheil-saakashvili
2. http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=8f716328-134e-4d26-bcdf-c0a115403d2f
3. http://www.eeas.europa.eu/statements/docs/2014/140731_01_en.pdf
4. http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2007/12/17/georgia-government-used-excessive-force-protesters
5. http://www.ccprcentre.org/doc/2014/07/CCPR_C_GEO_CO_4_17702_E.doc
6. https://www.ndi.org/files/Georgia_April_2014_Survey_English.pdf
7. http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/fule/headlines/news/2013/07/20130709_2_en.htm
8. http://www.eeas.europa.eu/statements/docs/2014/140731_01_en.pdf

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Turkey Enters Politically Uncharted Territory

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became Turkey’s first popularly elected head of state, taking 51.8 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election on Aug. 10. This win came as no surprise.

His popularity among Turkey’s conservative and devoutly Muslim population, in addition to the fact that he was able to use his position as prime minister to full advantage against his two opponents, guaranteed this outcome. Erdoğan’s presidency will be unlike any that Turkey has seen since the days of the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Erdoğan has always been hands-on, calling the shots, and he will want to keep calling the shots as president.

During his victory speech, he declared the “start of a new era” and has made no secret of his plans to use executive powers, as the “elected leader of the nation,” despite the fact that this is not in line with Turkey’s current Constitution, which defines the presidency as a non-partisan seat. For this to happen Erdoğan will require a compliant figure as Prime Minister who will not oppose him.

Ultimately, Erdoğan would still like to change Turkey’s current system of parliamentary governance to a de jure presidential one. However, this remains far from easy. It requires a two-thirds majority in the 550-seat Parliament and, presently, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) does not have enough seats. It would need to 330 seats to allow it to take the idea to a referendum. Hence, in order make good on his plan the AKP needs to increase its seats in the next parliamentary election, presently slated for 2015. While one should never underestimate Erdoğan, I think this will be difficult, as the AKP’s numbers have been gradually dropping with each election and even at its highest point of popularity the party never had this number of seats. Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that many AKP members are opposed to changing the system.

So who will be prime minister? Abdullah Gül, having previously dismissed taking on a political role, has created sparks by announcing that a “return to the AKP is only natural.” Only the prime ministry would be suitable for an ex-president. That said, it does not mean that Erdoğan is in favor of this despite their longtime friendship and the fact that Gül has pretty much toed the Erdoğan line for all these years. Of the other names that are being bandied about, current Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, a proven Erdoğan loyalist, is the favorite. The AKP will hold an extraordinary congress to choose a new chairman on Aug. 27, with Erdoğan stating that that person should also be prime minister — a day before Gül steps down. Yet if Gül is excluded in this way it is very likely to deepen cracks that are already in the party with a number of senior members very close to Gül.

Yet, even with an obedient prime minister — and control of Parliament and other branches of power — there is still the issue of the Constitutional Court, which can place obstacles and overturn decisions, as it did earlier this year, including that of the Twitter ban. Hence, we may expect to see sparks flying between the new president and the court

There is also the issue of what is going to happen to some 70 senior deputies — including Ali Babacan — who are not able to run in the next parliamentary elections due to an AKP rule which prevents deputies from running for four consecutive terms of office. It is unlikely they are simply going to disappear from the political scene. There is a possibility of the creation of a new party, possibly more so if Erdogan excludes Gül. Therefore we are likely to see a lot of twists and turns in the coming weeks and months.

While delivering a broadly conciliatory message during his victory speech, there was one exception: the so-called “parallel state,” aka Fethullah Gülen and associated organizations. The large scale purges of the police, judiciary and intelligence service which began in the aftermath of the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption scandal and have seriously undermined the rule of law, democracy and civil liberties, seem set to continue and broaden to include civilians, which will create further tensions. The irony of all this is that it was Gülen who helped Erdoğan come to power in 2002, supporting him until 2011, when they fell out over Erdoğan’s style of governance.

Erdoğan also declared “I will be the president of all 77 million people, not only those who voted for me.” However, he will have to change his narrative if he is to do this. Throughout his campaign he used polarizing and sometimes sectarian language. His failure to follow an inclusive approach towards governance and simply refer to the election box as justification for the policies he chooses has created dangerous divisions in the society. There is the need for an urgent “zero problems at home” policy. Everybody should fasten their seatbelts because Turkish politics is headed into some turbulence.

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Azerbaijan and the Two EUs

Of the six countries in the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP), Azerbaijan is the only one that has not chosen to definitively align itself with either the EU or Russia. With the signing of Association Agreements with the EU on June 27, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia declared their strategic choice to further integrate with the EU and, despite Russian opposition and aggression, stated full membership as their goal. Meanwhile, Belarus and Armenia have taken another path, choosing Russia’s Eurasian Union (EaU).

Azerbaijan, as Georgia and Armenia, is located at a very sensitive and volatile geopolitical crossroads, sandwiched between Russia, and Iran. However, unlike its neighbours, Baku has chosen a policy of “choosing not to choose”, having a cautious approach, not wanting to openly confront and create waves with Russia. Nevertheless, when analyzing Azerbaijan’s relationships with the West and Russia, it seems that Baku’s feet are increasingly under the West’s table. In fact, this engagement is nothing new. It began 20 years ago when former President Heydar Aliyev signed the “Contract of the Century” with a consortium of Western energy companies. Over the last two decades ties with Euro-Atlantic institutions have gradually deepened, although Azerbaijan has no aspirations to join either the EU or NATO. However, Baku wants Western “know-how” to work on modernizing the country including vocational training, best practices in sectors such as energy, science and technology and education.

For the EU Azerbaijan is an important and reliable partner. While energy is the backbone of relations, with Azerbaijan the enabler of the Southern Gas Corridor, there is a desire from both sides to broaden areas of cooperation. This was underlined during a recent speech, on 12 June, at Azerbaijan’s Diplomatic Academy, by President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso. Today the two partners are moving ahead with a “Strategic Partnership for Modernization (SPM)” along with ongoing Association Agreement talks. THE SPM, which will act as a framework for cooperation, is almost ready for signature, with EU officials hoping this can be done before the end of the present European Commission in the autumn. However, with the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine and the ramifications this has had on the broader region it is not impossible that signature may take place at a later date, possibly at the 2015 EU EaP Riga Summit.

This relationship is also clearly not without difficulties. While on the one hand the EU would like to see Azerbaijan take more steps towards improving democracy and human rights, Baku on the other hand would like the EU to have a more credible and consistent approach towards recognizing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, as it does with other EaP countries that have territorial disputes — Georgia, Moldova and most recently Ukraine following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Unfortunately, the EU’s ambiguous approach towards Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is a thorn in relations. In fact in light of Russia’s revanchist ideas, the EU should give explicit support to the territorial integrity of all EaP countries, not only those with territorial disputes.

Despite the fact that Azerbaijan has not expressed a desire to join the EU, and because Azerbaijan is not a member of the WTO  it is unable to have a deep trade agreement with the EU, with Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently fixated on “rebuilding” the Soviet Union, Baku has still come under increasing pressure from Moscow, to join the EaU. In recent weeks Moscow has significantly increased its diplomatic activity with a number of visits to Baku, including from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who arrived the day after Barroso left.

Azerbaijan wants good relations with Moscow, but it also wants to maintain full control over its foreign and economic policies. Joining the EaU would affect this independence. Not only would it have no added value for Azerbaijan economically – Azerbaijan’s economy, which is currently dominated by energy sector, is increasingly linked to the West – it would also impinge on Azerbaijan’s sovereignty.

There is also little appetite for closer ties with Russia from Azerbaijani society. There is a broad dislike and distrust of Russia’s leadership, something that has been exacerbated since the Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while deep resentment also continues to exist over the role that Russia has played in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia. Furthermore, and fortunately, because the majority of Azerbaijanis prefer to watch Turkish television rather than Russian, they have not been exposed to Russia’s extensive media propaganda campaign over Ukraine.

However, while Russia presently continues to be focused on Ukraine, as with the other EaP countries in the region, Moscow may also try to impact Baku’s foreign policy choices although its leverage on Azerbaijan is less than some of the other countries in the region. All the same, some 500,000 Azerbaijanis work in Russia; Azerbaijan is home to a Russian-speaking Lezgin ethnic minority that Moscow has tried in the past to create internal tension; the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia, where Russia is key to any settlement and uses for its own self-interest and Georgia. Georgia is important to Azerbaijan because it is the transit state for Azerbaijan hydrocarbons to European markets. Instability in Georgia could be disastrous for Baku.

Ultimately, while many people believe that Moscow may try to make Baku a very tempting offer, it is highly unlikely if not totally impossible that Azerbaijan will accept it. Nevertheless with such a resurgent Russia with a President that seems to have “no limits”, the ongoing climate of uncertainty and trepidation over what may be around the corner, over what Russia may or may not do next, is of significant concern and will probably keep Baku on a very cautious track. Moreover, the fact that there has been a significant failure from the EU (and the West more generally), to adequately respond to Russia’s actions towards Ukraine, is hardly reassuring to other countries in the region either.

(This article was originally published – in a shorter form – in Today’s Zaman)

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Ukraine left to fend for itself

Having already had Crimea occupied and annexed by Russia, Ukraine’s government is struggling to hold the rest of the country together as Russia uses covert actions and propaganda to drive unrest, violence and fear.  Meanwhile the international community seems incapable of doing little more than making toothless statements of concern and placing weak sanctions which have so far been totally ineffective in deterring Russian President, Vladimir Putin from further aggression.

Earlier this week the Ukrainian authorities deployed an anti-terrorist operation following several days of unrest as pro-Russian armed groups carried out coordinated attacks taking-over police stations and government buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine.  The operation is expected to last several days but success is far from guaranteed.  The threat of Moscow ordering its forces massed at the border into Ukraine in response for Kyiv’s using force against the separatists’ is a real risk as there is a real possibility it could be used by Moscow as a green light to invade to “protect” Russian speaking citizens.  However, Moscow’s approach is not proving to increase Russia’s popularity in the East. The vast majority of Ukraine’s southeastern citizens have remained indifferent or opposed to unification with Russia.   In a poll taken on 9 April in Donetsk 65.7% stated they wanted to live in a unified Ukraine while only 18.2% said they would like to join Russia.

While Russia’s leadership continues to claim it has nothing to do with the unrest and is “deeply concerned”, Moscow is not pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes.  The world is fully aware that Russia is pulling the strings; that Special Forces are on the ground (little green men as the Ukrainian’s call them), deliberately provoking tensions.   If this escalation continues there is a high risk that it will spread  further; that the forthcoming  25 May Ukrainian Presidential elections will be derailed or the instability may prevent polling in the East/South East and Russia will declare the election result as illegitimate and Ukraine will sink further into crisis.  It is crucially important that the presidential elections go ahead.  The new President would have democratic legitimacy, thereby burying Russian claims that Ukraine has no legitimate or constitutional leadership.

Unfortunately, there is a serious security vacuum between Kyiv and these regions.  Many of the police are corrupt and attached to the former Yanukovych regime.  The Ukrainian authorities cannot control or secure the country and Russia knows this.   Local populations have created self-defense units with citizens fighting to take back their occupied buildings and drive the separatists and “Russian tourists” out.  During the recent visit of interim Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, demands were made for greater power and resources to address the needs of local residents.  While decentralization does need to happen, this is a far cry from what Russia is talking about: Ukraine’s neutralization through its federalization – A group of mini states that are autonomous from Ukraine and closely linked to Moscow, giving Russia a significant stake in the country.

Meanwhile the international community continues to shy away from taking strong action.  Kyiv now understands that despite strong messages of condemnation, the West does not seem to want to get really tough with Russia and the level of disappointment is high.  Many Ukrainians believed they could count on the EU-US to support and help them.  While nobody expected military support, they did hope that tough economic sanctions would be placed.  So far this has not happened

The US has been quicker and stronger in its response than the EU.  Washington has indicated a readiness to move up to the next level but want to do this in harmony with the EU.  The EU is still resisting.  One month ago the EU placed travel sanctions and assets freezes on 21 Russians, promising to move to stage three economic sanctions if Russia did not deescalate.  Russia has not deescalated but rather escalated yet the EU has dithered over its next move.  An EU Foreign Ministers meeting on 14 April extended these travel bans further but delayed taking a decision on further sanctions until after a meeting in Geneva later this week between Russia, the US and Ukraine, which is aimed at reducing tensions, and raising a number of key issues including the Ukrainian economy and energy security.  After recent developments it is not clear what can come out of this meeting.    The EU has stated that if the four-party talks fail to “persuade” or force Russia to back off in Ukraine, EU leaders may meet next week for a snap summit to discuss the sanction issue further.  However, as Ukrainian Presidential candidate, Petro Poroshenko, states in a recent Wall Street Journal article – “talks for the sake of talks send a very wrong signal about the West’s commitment to sanctions”.  Hence something concrete needs to come from Geneva.

The level and pace of response from the EU is not only frustrating and disappointing for Ukrainian’s, it is also frustrating for those member states that feel the time has come to move to level three sanctions that could include trade restrictions, an arms and other measures targeted at Russia’s elite,.  Yet because EU decision-making is based on unanimity, that often equates to the lowest common denominator.

Some EU member states continue to resist placing tough economic sanctions fearing repercussions on their own economies at a time of economic hardship or fear that Moscow – as has been rumored – may try to nationalize EU business in Russia. In Ukraine, reality has hit home and there is now broad realization that they are on their own.

Beyond what the EU has talked about (there are other steps that could also be taken that would impact Russia.  For example pressure through the banking sector.  Today no country can separate its banking system from what the US now controls.  Alternately, Saudi Arabia could increase it oil production so price would drop.  Gas prices are inextricably linked to oil prices.  Given the seriousness of the situation there is no reason why Russia should not have to face the sort of sanctions that were placed on Iran.   Furthermore, in light of increased tensions on the ground and the forthcoming presidential elections, there is a need for larger number of international  monitors/peacekeepers on the ground  – UN, EU –in addition to those recently deployed by the OSCE, and as requested by Ukraine’s interim President, Olexandr Turchynov.

I am tired of hearing it is not the fault of the West.  Yes it is not the fault of the West that Putin is at the helm in Russia.  Nor is it the West’s fault he seems to have a gruesome grand strategy for Ukraine and Russia’s near abroad more generally.  However, it is the fault of the West that their response to the most serious challenge to the world order and security of Europe since the end of the Cold War has been so wishy-washy and inadequate.

(This article in a shorter form was originally published in Today’s Zaman)

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Turkey: The blue bird cannot be silenced

It is a well-established fact that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has a deep-seated phobia of social media. He detests all of it: Facebook, YouTube and most particularly Twitter. Still his bird-brained decision to ban those little blue birds really exposed how desperate he is these days. You would have hoped that one of his “super smart” advisers could have told him, “Dear Mr. Prime Minister, such a decision is a waste of time because people will easily get around it and you will only end up further humiliating yourself.” Clearly, they did not.

What happened next is now well known. News of the ban spread like wildfire with an explosion of tweets. The hashtags #TwitterisblockedinTurkey and #Turkey blockedTwitter became the top trending topics globally last Friday. A further explosion of Tweets explained that the ban could technically be bypassed. The mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek, became the first member of Erdoğan’s own Justice and Development Party (AKP) to violate the ban. “I am able to tweet because my DNS settings allow it,” he wrote. Enraged that society was not as bird-brained as him or his advisers, a further step was taken to shut down the blue birds with Turkey’s Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) introducing IP-based bans, making it almost impossible to have access to Twitter simply by adjusting the DNS values. But Turks have gotten around that, too. In fact, there have been more tweets from Turkey since the government blocked Twitter than ever before. Turks will not succumb to authoritarian rule.

Clearly, his desperate attempt to try to stop more of his dirty laundry from being aired on Twitter has gone badly wrong. Erdoğan’s international reputation was already in tatters and is now well and truly at rock bottom. With this move, Erdoğan has shot himself not only in the foot, but his entire leg. As the vice president of the European Commission tweeted, the ban is “groundless, pointless and cowardly.” Does Erdoğan care? Apparently not. Does he not realize the damage that he has inflicted not only on himself, but also on his party? Does he not understand that he is isolating Turkey, that Ankara is being bypassed on key regional issues?

Worse were the excuses that followed. From Erdoğan one can now expect pointless hubris that only his most loyal or most brainwashed supporters believe, if they even know what Twitter is in the first place. What pains me is seeing people who know much better — including some government ministers — trying to defend the move when in reality this decision is not defendable. For example, when Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek, who is a smart man, acknowledged during a BBC interview that banning Twitter “does not reflect well” on his government, he went on to defend Erdoğan, laying the blame on Twitter and its failure to follow through on a number of requests from the Turkish telecommunications watchdog demanding it remove the content of some tweets. With such a statement, he has not only damaged his image within Turkey but also internationally, which is a big shame because he has always been viewed extremely positively. Why he felt the need to comment, I do not know. I can only presume — and hope — there is some reason we are not aware of.

Now on to President Abdullah Gül, who has condemned the Twitter ban. While he should be praised for his strong statement rather than toeing Erdoğan’s line, at the same time Gül, too, had his role in the decision because he signed the new Internet law that paved the way for such a decision. Still, it is good that Gül has finally set himself so publicly at odds with Erdoğan. I would like to see much more of this.

I really wonder when the prime minister is going to wake up to the fact that Turks will not succumb to his increasingly authoritarian style of rule. He does represent the will of the nation, and he needs to stop thinking that just because the AKP had a big win in 2012, he can do what he wants. Majoritarianism has no connection with the term democracy. Erdoğan has failed to get his head around this. I hope that by this time next week – post the 30 April local elections – he will have understood what his policy has cost him.

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Responding to the Russians

Russian President Vladimir Putin is escalating the Crimea crisis every day because he believes in three things. First that Ukraine is too weak to defend her own territory. Secondly, that the West is too feeble, divided and fearful to go beyond harsh rhetoric and half-hearted sanctions. And thirdly that he has impunity because of these reasons. Unless the West is able to shatter this belief, and show it is ready to respond to Russia in a robust an steadfast manner, clearly demonstrating that there is a price to pay for abusing the rules of international order we are going to find ourselves in increasingly hot water.

Putin acted towards Crimea just as Nazi Germany did towards Czechoslovakia in 1938 and, as with Hitler, there is a real possibility Putin may not stop with Crimea. The killing of the first Ukrainian soldier on Tuesday, and the storming of a Ukrainian military base on Wednesday shows that Russia has no qualms about using violence and further escalating the crisis. Over the last two days Russia has embarked on a Russification of Crimea. The Ukrainian Armed Forces, one of the last symbols of Ukraine, is now are now preparing to leave the peninsula following a day of Russian belligerence and antagonism. With their departure Russia’s takeover will be complete. Unfortunately, the West is still struggling to come to terms what has happened and adequately respond. The tough language we have heard in the UN Security Council needs to be followed with decisive and effective actions.

Unfortunately, prospects for bringing about a diplomatic solution seem to have evaporated. As UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, headed off to Moscow yesterday, there was little hope of a success. Rather Russia has upped the stakes, threatening serious consequences – including related to talks with Iran and Syria – if the West moves to place tough economic sanctions on Russia. While such threats should not be tolerated it is undeniable that Russia has the ability to complicate negotiations with both states due to its seat on the UN Security Council. While Russia has lost the moral, political, and legal right to remain as a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), it would seem there is no appetite to try and launch a process to have Russia removed or its membership suspended, despite the fact that there are legal mechanisms (albeit quite complicated) available to do this.

EU leaders meeting today and Friday need to follow through on their threats and move to ‘stage three’ economic and trade sanctions, including sanctioning Russians who really matter, and not spend any more time thinking about the possible negative blow back from these actions. The lack of consensus between some states (including the UK and Germany, which both have significant economic ties to Russia) on the eve of the Summit, over how far economic sanctions should go, demonstrates the EU has a real “values” -v- “Interests” dilemma.

The West should implement a broad economic and political isolation of the Kremlin. These sanctions should be just as severe as the ones that were imposed on Iran. At the same time NATO needs to up its game, as Estonian President Toomas Ilves recently wrote, “send NATO military forces (ground forces, not just AWACS planes) to NATO allied territory bordering Ukraine to conduct military exercises a well as strengthening the air defense assets deployed to the Baltic States’. Russia’s actions represent the biggest threat to European Security since the Cold War, and need to be seriously countered.

Meanwhile, with the EU due to sign the political part of Ukraine’s Association Agreement this Friday, its needs to go much further. The EU should offer Ukraine a clear membership perspective and rapidly introduce visa-free travel. Technically, there is not a big difference in the level of preparedness between Moldova (which just received visa liberalization) and Ukraine.   International monitors and peacekeepers are urgently needed. This could either be done by the UN, while the EU should also discuss sending a monitoring mission to Ukraine.

The EU, together with the US and the UK, Ukraine’s security guarantors under the Budapest Memorandum, as well as NATO should also invite Ukrainian troops to take part in an immediate military exercise. The Russian invasion shows one thing clearly: Ukraine, even if it adopts a neutral status, will never be safe until it enters under the aegis of NATO, one way or another. Hence the issue of a MAP for Ukraine needs to be put back on the table for discussion. Russia has never invaded a NATO member state.

Ukraine must also put its own house in order. First, it may hope for peace, but at the same time, be prepared for a long and difficult war. There should be full national mobilization and deployment in east and south Ukraine. If Russia is killing Ukrainian soldiers, they should defend themselves. Ukrainian Special Forces should sweep in and dismantle the separatist groups mushrooming, with Russian support, on the mainland.

At the same time, it is crucially important to create, as demanded by the EU, an inclusive political process and a national unity government. The new government could reconfirm the key elements of the 21 February deal, deflecting Russian criticism on its non-application. While former president Viktor Yanukovych cannot return as President, he should have the right to a fair trial for murder and corruption and could return from Russia under national or international security guarantees. While this could take place in Ukraine, it would have greater international legitimacy if it were to be held at the International Court in The Hague. In this respect Ukraine needs to urgently sign the Rome Statue.

Furthermore, reforms must not be postponed for the post-crisis/war period. They must be implemented now. Without administrative, budget, and healthcare reforms, as well as urgent anti-corruption measures, the government risks losing support inside the country.  Constitutional reform remains the key issue for Ukraine and must be quick and credible. Unfortunately, the Constitutional Reform Commission created in the Rada some days ago has questionable credentials. Given that none of key experts on constitutional law or civil society representative were invited there is a growing suspicion that the review process will be marred by old-style horse-trading. Public and Western pressure must be placed on Ukraine’s leadership to make the review of the constitution not only quick but legitimate, credible, and transparent. A new constitution could be adopted quite quickly and then new parliamentary and possibly presidential elections which might fully restart the political system in Ukraine.

With the strengthening of Ukraine militarily, ties with NATO boosted a show of real muscle from the West and new political legitimacy in Kyiv, Russia may find itself in an increasingly tight corner which could push it to the negotiating table.

This article was jointly authored by Amanda Paul and Vasyl Filipchuk, Executive Director of the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv (where it was first published)

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Turkey’s Crimea Quandary

Ever since Russia occupied Crimea, Turkey’s leadership has been walking a fine line. Ankara is concerned about developments in Crimea, which lies 173 miles from the Turkish coast. It is home to an estimated 260,000 Tartars (some 15 percent of Crimea’s population), who are the ethnic and linguistic kin of Anatolian Turks. Crimean Tatars strongly oppose the actions of Russia in Crimea — not surprisingly, given that they were subjected to ethnic cleansing during Soviet times. The prospect of coming under Moscow’s rule again appalls them. Two have died, with several more being injured in anti-Russian rallies. While the Russians have sent “envoys” to try and win hearts and minds, the Tatars are not buying this. Tatar men have created neighborhood patrols, keeping an eye on overnight Russian military infiltration of their villages. Community leaders have also called for a boycott of the illegal (as recently stated by the OSCE) March 16 referendum on rejoining Russia. Others have fled Crimea to Western Ukraine.

However, despite Turkey wanting to protect and support its Tatar kin, Turkey does not want to damage its relationship with Moscow. Hence Ankara is trying to sit on the fence. Turkey is conscious of the seriousness of the situation in Ukraine. It is not just about the future of Crimea’s Tatar community, but the impact the end game of the crisis may have on Turkey’s broader regional policies. The recent images of Russian naval vessels sailing up the Bosporus towards the Black Sea were highly symbolic of the tricky situation that Turkey — a long-time NATO member — finds itself in. The more dirty and embedded this fight becomes, the more difficult it will be for Turkey to maintain this position.

Turkey is also home to a large Crimean Tatar diaspora of several million. Yet despite this and the fact that demonstrations are taking place in Turkey, protesting the Russian occupation of and aggression in Crimea, the Turkish government has not and will not condemn Moscow. Historically Turkey has always feared Russia and backs away from any sort of confrontation. Indeed, over the centuries, Turkey and Russia have fought almost 20 wars and on almost every occasion the victor was Russia. Turkey’s membership of NATO came in the aftermath of the former Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, demanding that Turkey give the USSR a base on the Bosporus along with some Turkish territory. After joining NATO, Turkey believed it was safe from Russian aggression.

Today, Ankara enjoys good relations with Russia. It is said that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have particularly cozy ties, despite some differences — for example, on Syria. With Erdoğan’s authoritarian tendencies, his style of governance increasingly resembles that of Putin. And of course they share a complex about the West, which both men frequently accuse of conspiring against them and of failing to recognize their respective nations as the global powers they consider themselves to be.

However, beyond the strange Putin-Erdoğan relationship, it is ultimately Turkey’s economic ties with Russia that Ankara is protecting. The two enjoy excellent trade relations with annual bilateral trade estimated to be some $40 billion. Turkey is dependent on Russia for around half of its natural gas — almost 60 percent of its natural gas and some 12 percent of its oil. Turkish industry relies heavily on this gas. Russia is also involved in a number of other energy projects in Turkey, while construction work by Turkish companies in Russia continues to rapidly rise. During a meeting at the Sochi Olympics, Putin stated that Turkey is the “primary partner” of Russia. Erdoğan does not want to pick a fight with Putin that may jeopardize this. Turkey took the same policy during the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Ankara sat on the fence and was careful not to criticize Russia. Turkey also followed to the last comma the 1963 Monteux Convention which limits the access of non-littoral powers into the Black Sea through the Turkish Straits, including the Bosporus. Turkey has prevented the US, its NATO ally, from sending large naval ships into the Black Sea.

The situation may also fuel Turkey’s tempestuous domestic situation, with the government already fighting serious corruption charges, accused of stealing billions and of overturning democracy and the rule of law. Hence Turkey’s muted reaction to the Crimean crisis may further cost Erdoğan at the March 30 local elections.

(This Article first appeared in Today’ Zaman on 12 March)

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Russian Aggression, International Support and an Action Plan for Ukraine

This analysis was prepared for the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv by Vasyl Filipchuk, Olena Zakharova,and myself (Amanda Paul)

Russian aggression in Crimea and power play on the Ukrainian-Russian border has become a key issue of the international agenda today. Russian actions are aimed at making the world take into consideration its own geopolitical ambitions, enforcing the order of the post-Soviet region which would best fit its interests as well as solving a number of its internal problems.

The international community demonstrates an increasingly appropriate response to Russian aggression – it was the stance of global players that became a major counterbalance to the Russian pressure. However, further steps need to be taken by Ukraine’s new leadership to strengthening their institutional capacity in terms of responding to this serious challenge from their neighbour.

1. Russian aggression and international response

1.1. Positions of major global players
Insisting on the legitimacy of Viktor Yanukovych, Russia used him as a tool in achieving its goals in Crimea, while breaching a number of international treaties, namely:

•United Nations Charter;
•1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law;
•1975 Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe;
•1997 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between the Russian Federation and Ukraine;
•Agreement on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet stationing on the territory of Ukraine dated August 8th, 1997 (it was prolonged in April 2010).

Besides, refusal of the Russian Federation to carry out preliminary consultations with Ukraine and the countries, which are guarantors of its security and territorial integrity (Great Britain, USA and France), blatantly neglects international commitments enforced in the Budapest memorandum of 1994.

1.2. Geopolitical and economic interests of Russia

From geopolitical viewpoint, Crimean affairs are part of Russian foreign strategy and the means to enforce its geopolitical positions, predominantly in the region it considers to be its area of influence.
Through the campaign in Crimea Russia tries to attach the Crimean peninsula to a so-called “small security belt” which already includes Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, and Kaliningrad. At the same time it wants to increase the presence of its Navy in the Black Sea, which is perceived as a component of national security system and factor of regional stability in confrontation with NATO.

Besides, Russia tries to solve the following economic tasks:

•To ensure energy security through reducing the cost of South Stream which, in this case, would be constructed on the continental shelf of the Black Sea instead of deep international waters;
•To use gas pipelines to “tie” Crimea to Russia, whereas nowadays the former totally depends on Ukraine in terms of infrastructure and resources;
•To neutralize or take under the Russian control profitable projects of gas exploration and extraction in the Black Sea, which were initiated by Ukraine with the assistance of major European and American companies;
•To deprive “Ukraine without Crimea” of major territory of exclusive economic zone in the Black Sea etc.

1.3. Conspiracy theories

In order to explain the Russian logic, experts consider several conspiracy theories.

1.A Russian game to raise the stakes. Russia decided to use the vulnerability of the newly appointed Ukrainian government in order to raise the stakes in the negotiations on Ukrainian-Russian relations after Maidan. Such a step was aimed at preventing new Ukrainian officials from raising the issues of Kharkiv treaties denouncement or the withdrawal of the Russian Black Sea Fleet from the territory of Ukraine. According to this scenario, after Russian power play, which would not transform into military conflict, the parties will start negotiations where Russia will insist on its terms for the conflict resolution. Russia needs a loyal Ukrainian government which would not enter NATO and would take into account Russian economic and military interests.

2.Russian reply to the US. Russia perceives Ukrainian Maidan exclusively as an American “special operation”, the first stage of post-Soviet “democratization” based on the scenario of the Arab spring. The Kremlin believes that events in Ukraine from November 2013 – February 2014 may serve as an example for weakening Putin’s regime in Russia. Therefore, after Yanukovych’s defeat Moscow decided to counterattack and fight the US on the Ukrainian territory. In this case it is unknown how far Russia would go; yet, considering the vulnerability of the newly appointed Ukrainian government, Moscow may try to split the country and return Viktor Yanukovych as a puppet leader of a quasi-state.

3.Oligarchs’ theory. Supporters of this theory believe that Viktor Yanukovych failed to ensure Russian interests in Ukraine and Vladimir Putin decided to return or introduce other individuals in Ukrainian politics. The scenario of aggression on the Crimean peninsula was used to regain control over the processes in the country and allow particular individuals to get power. In this case Moscow will start negotiations or make concessions when a pre-approved negotiator will be offered to whom Vladimir Putin will “grant the victory” – settlement of the conflict and return of control over Crimea.

4.Economic theory. According to this theory, the Russian leadership understands that their global positions have weakened due to end of the crisis in the EU, the start of economic growth in the US, considerable economic growth in the East and progress in the resolution of Iranian problem. It is believed that by the end of 2014 an irreversible processes will start in the Russian economic and financial system, and the Crimean affair was initiated to distract attention from the Russian economic problems and destabilize the global economic system.

5.Psychological theory. Certain experts believe that the actions of Russian political elite are sincere and they reflect psychological and moral traumas related to the demise of the USSR.

None of these theories are perfect. We do not fully know the motivation and logic of Russian leaders. It is possible that their actions were caused by a combination of factors.

At this point it is impossible to say whether Putin will move on to the “continental” phase of the conflict and how far Russia will go in case of this phase. Each of the possible options (1. Crimea; 2. Two or three eastern regions; 3. 6-7 regions of Russian-speaking South East; 4. Zbruch line, meaning the whole territory of Ukraine except for Western Ukraine) will depend on a number of factors, namely:

1.War-making capacity of Ukrainian army;
2.Kyiv’s control over regions and local population supporting the government;
3.Level of international support to Kyiv and pressure on Moscow;

4. Internal political and economic situation in Russia.

1.4. Restraints of Russian special operation

Though Russians form the majority in the Crimea (58.5%), there are also considerable minorities – Ukrainians (24.4%) and Crimean Tatars (12.1%), – who are against Crimea joining the Russian Federation and may form an alliance against the Russians.

Nevertheless, it was the response of international community that restrained Russia from further escalating the Crimea conflict. Furthermore, the NATO-Russia military ratio in the Black Sea is evaluated to be 5 to 1.

Conflict in Crimea will also activate Muslim factor inside Russia and may cause new terrorist attacks there.

Aggression in Crimea also negatively affected the Russian stock market and currency rate, which significantly influenced the calculations of the Russian government. However, at the same time there can be little doubt that political expediency will be the only factor which will define any further Russian steps.

1.5. Information war: Russia vs Maidan

Over the last few months Russia has carried out full-scale informational campaign to discredit Maidan in the West and eastern regions of Ukraine.

Special attention is paid to depicting Ukrainian protesters as extremists. In particular, considerable efforts are aimed at discrediting Dmytro Yarosh, leader of Praviy Sektor.

Another element of the Russian campaign is aggressive speculations over the issues of language and the rights of ethnic minorities, namely Russians in the Crimea. Thus, Russia delivers a message that Maidan is a revolution of Ukrainian nationalists, aimed against ethnic minorities.

Due to this fact, informational coverage of events in Crimea looked like a demonstration of power, rather than a military operation. Messages from the Russian mass media about Russian soldiers taking control over military facilities and panic among the Russian-speaking population in Eastern Ukraine were not true. The press conference of Viktor Yanukovych, organized on February 28th, 2014 in Rostov-na-Donu, is perceived as a part of the information campaign in which the former Ukrainian president is just a tool of Russian influence.

We may assume that the aim of this information campaign is to determine the reaction of Ukrainian citizens to the Kremlin’s steps in order to define the level to which Moscow may raise the stakes at the negotiations or the potential scale of military intervention.

At present Putin leaves himself space for manoeuvring in Crimean situation. For instance, it was done through a statement that the Resolution of the Council of Federation, which allows Putin to use army on the territory of Ukraine, was adopted based on the information, which was not confirmed.

In turn, since December 2013 Maidan was losing the information war in the West. For a long time Russian positions were strengthened by Ukrainian official diplomacy.

At the same time, actions taken by the new Ukrainian government (in particular, the decision of the Council of National Security and Defence of Ukraine on ensuring security and territorial integrity of Ukraine dated March 2nd, 2014 and parliamentary Resolution “On Appeal of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to parliaments of the countries which are security guarantors of Ukraine and international organizations” dated March 2nd, 2014), strengthened positions of Ukraine in future negotiations with Russia.

2. Plan of action for Ukraine

The Crimean affair showed the institutional vulnerability of the Ukrainian state machine, its inability to take preventative measures in conflict situations. When the information on Russian actions in Crimea appeared in mass media, representatives of the new government were focused on the distribution of positions instead of ensuring control over regions.

Russian aggression made the Ukrainian government face reality and act under extraordinary circumstances. Ukraine’s new leadership took positive steps. However, it is still necessary to strengthen positions for negotiations, which would make Moscow start negotiations and would raise Ukraine’s stakes in the process.

What steps may be taken? First of all, an adequate response to the military threat is needed. For instance, a state of emergency may be announced in certain regions; the Minister of Defence may start the mobilization of the army and inventorying its resources with a public report to Commander-in-Chief on the readiness to fight against the aggressor. It is necessary to use the Security Service of Ukraine and army units to strengthen and protect the eastern borders of the country. The government should arrest people, responsible for the destabilization of situation and block the borders so that agent provocateurs would not be able to come from Russia.

Steps were made to launch a patriotic information campaign; yet more proactive work with the international mass media is needed.

More importantly, a national coalition of people’s trust should be formed. It may be achieved through the transformation of the government headed by Batkivschyna into a government of national unity which will include professionals representing various regions and parties. Controversial and weak personalities should be eliminated from the government.

Instead of being an object for geopolitical games, Ukraine should become their subject. The country needs its own plan for solving the conflict and competent negotiators.

Ukraine should offer Russia and the international community a new memorandum which would become a compromise and basis for long-lasting peace and stability in the region. This Memorandum should grant Russia and other countries, which do not aim at entering the EU, the prospect of integration in European area with freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and people. Such an opportunity would guarantee political independence of Russia while providing it with access to European advantages.

The Memorandum may offer security guarantees to Russia – for instance, the consent of Ukraine not to integrate with NATO if Russia withdraws its fleet in 2017 and provides effective international guarantees for the borders of Ukraine.

This Memorandum may also cover other issues, including language and humanitarian ones, and in the future it may complement Helsinki documents and become a mechanism for reforms within OSCE.

There may be many ideas and concepts in negotiations with Russia and the international community, yet it is important for Ukrainian government to have the institutional capacity to elaborate them and conduct negotiations with partners. A key task today is to appoint a professional negotiator, who could communicate with Russia on a par and have trust both on the part of the EU and the Russian Federation.

Russian aggression has become the largest challenge for modern Ukraine. At the same time it has offered a unique chance to review current architecture of Europe in which Ukraine does not take its due place. We shall see whether the government will use this opportunity.

3. Conclusions

By implementing military aggression in Crimea, Russia makes steps “to force Ukraine to conduct negotiations” on the part of the international community and major geopolitical players. Moscow sent a clear signal to the world community that it would not allow them to define the rules on post-Soviet territory without taking into consideration its interests. Russia leaves space for negotiations, but it clearly defined the USA and West, not the Ukrainian government, as a party in these negotiations.

The most important task for Ukrainian diplomacy is to restore direct dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow, which is the only way to prevent the final loss of international legal standing. That is why it is extremely important to appoint a competent negotiator to represent Ukraine. Discredited individuals who have political or pragmatic interest to use the conflict for their own sake should not become such negotiators.

Russia will raise the stakes in negotiations with the West to distribute spheres of influence and with Ukrainian government to consider interests of Kremlin in its future politics. Moscow will advance to the point to which Kyiv would allow it through insufficient control over eastern regions and institutional weakness of the government. It is only through its own actions that Kyiv may define the limit to which Moscow will advance, solving its geopolitical, energy and economic interests in the region.

Ensuring a strong national position in negotiations is a key task for Ukraine. This position should be based on the highest level of war-making capacity of the army, its mobilization, control over all regions in the country, consensus of the elites over major state issues till the conflict is solved. Ukraine should propose a large-scale document to settle the conflict, which may become a basis for a long-lasting European order.

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New hope for peace in Cyprus

On Feb. 11, almost a decade after the failure of the Annan plan, the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, Nicos Anastasiades and Derviş Eroğlu, respectively, began a new round of talks aimed at reunifying the island after nearly 40 years of division. The previous attempt, which began in 2008, ran aground in May 2012.

The talks, which are being facilitated by the United Nations, aim for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. So what are the chances of success, given that all other attempts have unfortunately failed? There are a number of reasons that make me feel more optimistic.

The fact that the leaders of the two communities have signed a joint declaration/communiqué, representing a framework for the talks seems positive, despite it taking four months to achieve this. The communiqué underlines the single sovereignty and international identity of the future federal state — something the Greek Cypriots wanted — while also underlining political equality and strong residual powers for the constituent states, which is important for the Turkish Cypriots.

The fact that there will be so-called cross-talks with Ankara and Athens is also something new. The Turkish Cypriot negotiator will visit Athens while his Greek Cypriot counterpart will travel to Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras have been particularly active in pushing for this new round of talks. Turkey in particular remains a key element in coming to a successful conclusion, hence any steps that can help build trust between Turkey and Greek Cypriots and that could reduce the fear and suspicion that Greek Cypriots have toward Turkey should be welcomed. Furthermore, the fact that Anastasiades is seeking a light federal solution represents a significant change from the past, and could make an eventual deal more digestible.

Not everybody liked the communiqué. Anastasiades’ coalition partner, the Democratic Party (DIKO), labeled it a “bad deal.” Head of the party, Nicolas Papadopoulos accused Anastasiades of “caving in” to international pressure and threatened to withdraw from the government — DIKO has five ministers. However, Papadopoulos does not have the full support of DIKO. There is a 60-40 split, which may make it more difficult. More positively, opposition Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) has thrown its support behind Anastasiades, as has Archbishop Chrysostomos II, which is important.

The choice of the two chief negotiators should also help the process. Andreas Mavroyiannis is a diplomat with considerable international experience. Having had many conversations with Mr. Mavroyiannis during his time as ambassador at Cyprus’ Permanent Representation in Brussels, I know him to be deeply committed to finding a solution. His counterpart on the Turkish Cypriot side, Kudret Özersay, also has many years of experience. He is very proactive and has acted as chief negotiator previously. Building a good working relationship will be key.

Another positive point is that the US has had a more active part, playing a key role in ironing out the difficulties in having the declaration signed, with Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland visiting Cyprus. The sudden increase in US involvement caught many by surprise as Washington has been quite passive on the issue over the last few years. It could indicate that they see genuine commitment from the two sides. There is also the fact that US energy corporation Nobel is involved in the Cypriot natural gas extraction projects, which would become much easier with a solution.

Still, we should not expect a quick result. A lot of work lies ahead. There are many thorny problems to work out such as property and territory, as well as the issue of settlers. They will need to dig deep to find sufficient political will. I also hope both sides will have learned from previous mistakes and make this an “inclusive” process that bring in all stakeholders — including media, business, civil society and, crucially, Cypriot society.

A solution would not only bring peace and stability to the Eastern Mediterranean, it would give a much needed boost to the economy of the island, facilitate the transport of both Cypriot and Israeli natural gas to Europe and unblock Turkey’s accession process with the EU to a considerable extent. But perhaps most importantly it will help bury years of distrust and acrimonious relations.

* This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman

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