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British ambivalence towards the Republic of Cyprus

It is not the first time that London acts against the interests of the Republic of Cyprus, both publicly and behind the scenes.

The recent statement of the British minister for Europe, Alan Duncan, about “sovereignty under dispute” for the Cypriot EEZ, is not only unfortunate but also provocative.

It seems that the ultimate overthrow of Henry Hopkinson’s notorious “never” statement of 28 July 1954, over the Cypriot right for self-determination, and the failure to suppress the EOKA anti-colonial struggle, as was confidently declared by Field Marshal John Harding, deeply wounded British imperial prestige and created a long-term prejudice in Whitehall, if not an aversion, against the Greek Cypriots who “dared” to challenge British colonial rule.

The inciting of the Turkish minority against the Greek majority and the invitation of Turkey to the Tripartite Conference in London, in September 1955, as a strategically interested party, would offer revengeful satisfaction to the bureaucrats of imperial Whitehall.

Since the methodical transformation of the “Cyprus Question for self-determination into a “Cyprus Problem” under the Damocles’ sword of imposed partition, in the context of the British colonial doctrine of “devide and rule”, would incite violence between the two communities (as in Ireland, Palestine and India) and would create volatile conditions of continual inter-communal bleeding in the newly-established island Republic.

The recent geopolitical developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, which highlight the important contribution of the Republic of Cyprus in regional energy cooperation and the emerging security architecture, are perceived differently by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

The former considers the British Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) and Retained Sites on the island – the upgrading of which continues today with an investment of more than 150 million pounds – as a vital strategic hub for the new “Global Britain” strategy and encourages discreet cooperation with the Republic on various matters, especially on security issues such as the bilateral “Chameleon” exercise, and expressed interest to participate in the Cypriot-Israeli exercise “Onisilos-Gedeon”. MOD understands that, beyond the legal formalities of the Treaty of Establishment, maintaining harmonious ties with the Republic and friendly relations with the local population is an important component for the unobstructed operation of its vital Royal Air Force base and the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) facilities in the two SBAs and the Retained Site at Troodos.

However, the FCO – which seems to have not yet been reconciled with the historical burden of EOKA’s anti-colonial struggle against the British Crown – perceives the Republic of Cyprus as a post-colonial entity rather than as an independent state, against which it acts, mainly behind the scenes, with contempt and often provocatively. The strategic blunder of Brexit has brought, by necessity, Whitehall closer to Nicosia (as the recent invitation of president Anastasiades in Buckingham Palace has proven), which, as a EU member state, may discreetly support British interests in Brussels after Brexit.

Perhaps, for the first time since the founding of the Republic, geostrategic circumstances favour Nicosia in its relations with London, since the latter needs the former, both for the smooth operation of the SBAs and Retained Sites and for accommodating British interests in the post-Brexit era. Whitehall’s exit from the EU will inevitably cause its political and economic isolation from european affairs and the search for markets and investments in Asia and Africa will become an acute necessity. Prime Minister May’s visit to Ankara in January 2017, following the Brexit referendum and the failed coup attempt in Turkey, reflects London’s increased interest for political and economic cooperation with Turkey after Brexit. However, the exclusive identification of British interests with Turkey, especially the silent or open support of Turkish aggression in Cypriot EEZ, will inevitably cause great discontent to Nicosia, which will be obliged to a closer attachment with Brussels and its european friends to the detriment of British interests.

In such a case, there is an increased likelihood of difficulties in the unopposed operation of the SBAs and the vital facilities at Troodos, while the growing strategic alignment of Cyprus with Israel, France, the United States and other european states, may also bring a British isolation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

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