Turkey Lashes Out at Allies in Mediterranean Border Dispute

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a Victory Day ceremony in Ankara, August 30 (Presidency of the Republic of Turkey)

Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean show no sign of easing.

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused the EU of “modern-day colonialism” for supporting Greek claims in the region.

His government has accused the United States of violating the “spirit” of the NATO alliance by lifting an arms embargo on Cyprus.

Greece and Turkey are both in NATO, but they have a history of antagonism and overlapping maritime border claims. Those long-standing disputes have been rekindled by the discovery of national gas in waters around Cyprus, the northern half of which Turkey recognizes as an independent republic. Read more “Turkey Lashes Out at Allies in Mediterranean Border Dispute”

France Deploys Warships as Tensions with Turkey Rise

France is boosting its military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean to reinforce Cypriot and Greek claims in the area and protect the activities of its energy giant Total.

The helicopter carrier Tonnerre, which is taking aid to Lebanon following the fertilizer explosion in Beirut, and the frigate La Fayette, which is training with the Greek navy, will remain in the area.

Two French Rafale warplanes will be based in Crete.

The deployments come after the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier patrolled the region earlier this year, and in response to the appearance of Turkish drill ships and frigates in disputed waters.

Turkish warships have in the past blocked Western drilling rigs in waters around Cyprus. Read more “France Deploys Warships as Tensions with Turkey Rise”

Erdoğan-Putin Deal Tests Russian, Turkish Influence in Libya

Days after sending military aid to prop up the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, Turkey’s strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has done a deal with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to halt the fighting in Libya.

Russian mercenaries fight on the side of warlord Khalifa Haftar, who controls the bulk of the country, including its oil industry.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates also support Haftar, who has reportedly received Chinese-made drones and Russian-made air defenses from the UAE.

The Arab states see Haftar as a bulwark against Islamist influences, including the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is part of the Tripoli government. Egypt’s generals overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood in their country with the backing of most Arab monarchs in 2013.

It is unclear what, if any, effect the Erdoğan-Putin deal will have. Artillery and missile strikes were reported on the outskirts of Tripoli in the early hours of Thursday. The promised ceasefire could be a test of Turkey’s and Russia’s influence over their proxies in Libya. Read more “Erdoğan-Putin Deal Tests Russian, Turkish Influence in Libya”

Why Greek-Russian Relations Haven’t Improved

When the far-left Syriza party took power in Greece in 2015, there were fears (including here) that it might trade the country’s Western alliance for an entente with Moscow.

The party had called for a “refoundation of Europe” away from Cold War divisions and its leader and the new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, suggested Greece could serve as a “bridge” between East and West.

Three years later, nothing has come of it. Read more “Why Greek-Russian Relations Haven’t Improved”

Why Now Is the Time for Greek Debt Relief

Athens Greece
Athens, Greece at night (Shutterstock)

The conventional wisdom is that Greek debt relief can’t happen before the German election. Angela Merkel wouldn’t want to risk the ire of her conservative voters.

But things could be more difficult after the election. There is a good chance Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the liberal Free Democrats will win enough seats to form a center-right government. The latter, while smaller, are more adamant in their views on the Greek debt crisis. They would find it hard to justify debt forgiveness to their voters.

That’s not the only reason why the time is right. Donald Trump and the rise of illiberal democracy around the world is another. Europe must circle the wagons to provide a counterweight to this dangerous development. Read more “Why Now Is the Time for Greek Debt Relief”

Gas Exploration Opens New Doors in Nicosia

Located between Europe and the Middle East, Cyprus has historically been of strategic significance to powers on either side of the Mediterranean Sea. The discovery of natural gas off its shores has raised the island’s geopolitical profile — and might help it overcome communal tensions.

Cypriot waters are estimated to contain between 140 and 220 billion cubic meters of gas with an approximate value of €38 billion.

Exploration should spur economic growth and could make it easier for internationally-recognized Greek Cyprus and Turkey to hash out a compromise for the future of the island.

Cyprus has been divided into Greek and Turkish communities since a 1974 Turkish invasion. A United Nations peacekeeping force keeps the two sides apart.

The planned construction of a 2,000-kilometer gas pipeline connecting Israel to Cyprus to Greece makes resolving the conflict a higher priority for the EU. It is keen to diversify the continent’s energy supply away from Russia. Read more “Gas Exploration Opens New Doors in Nicosia”

The Latest Greek Drama, Explained

Greece flag
Greek flag in Athens, October 11, 2008 (Ananabanana)

Time is — once again — running out for Greece. This time the sticking point is a €7 billion tranche from its bailout program. Greece needs the money by July, but European officials had hoped to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund about the payment early next week, lest Greece’s debt crisis become an issue in the Dutch and French elections.

The mood in Brussels isn’t hopeful, the Financial Times reports. The expectation is that the creditors will miss their self-imposed deadline.

That would be especially unfortunate for the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, who faces reelection in four weeks. He famously promised voters in 2012 that he would not support any more bailouts for Greece — but then he did. This is the worst possible time for him to be reminded of that broken promise.

There is no immediate risk of bankruptcy, let alone ejection from the eurozone, for Greece. But the closer we get to July, the more markets will worry and the more pressure will rise on lenders to hash out a compromise.

So what’s the problem? Read more “The Latest Greek Drama, Explained”

Greece Tries to Weasel Out of Spending Commitments Again

For the nth time, Greece is testing Europe’s patience by circumventing the spending commitments it made to qualify for financial support.

Surprised by a high budget surplus this year, the Greece prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, immediately vowed to use the money to fund free school meals for poor children, top up pensions for low-incomes retirees and freeze sales tax hikes on islands that are struggling to cope with refugees.

Tsipras, who leads the country’s far-left Syriza party, did not consult with his bailout monitors before making the spending pledges.

European finance ministers on Wednesday promptly put plans for short-term Greek debt relief on hold. Read more “Greece Tries to Weasel Out of Spending Commitments Again”

Countries Most Critical of Russia Sanctions Least Affected

David Cameron Matteo Renzi Justin Trudeau
Prime Ministers David Cameron of the United Kingdom and Justin Trudeau of Canada listen to Italy’s Matteo Renzi at the G7 in Shima, Japan, May 26 (Palazzo Chigi)

The European countries that are among the most critical of the blog’s sanctions against Russia have been the least affected by the punitive measures, research shows.

A report from the Geneva-based Program for the Study of International Governance (PSIG) found that Italian exports, for example, suffered less than the European average from the sanctions, which restrict European companies from trading with Russian businesses and individuals who are linked to President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Yet at a European Council summit on Friday, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, blocked a proposal from France, Germany and the United Kingdom to add penalties for Russia’s bombing of civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

“I think that to refer in the text to sanctions makes no sense,” Renzi told reporters.

Renzi has shielded Russia before. As I reported here in January, he first accused Germany and the Netherlands of hypocrisy for supporting EU sanctions against Russia while going ahead with the extension of a Baltic Sea pipeline that bypasses Central Europe — only to turn around and try to get his country in on the deal! Read more “Countries Most Critical of Russia Sanctions Least Affected”