What to expect in the East Med for 2021
Greek-Turkish relations were precarious in 2020, and the fact that an “accident” or military engagement was avoided is important. The new year may bring big developments in Greek-Turkish relations but also on the Cyprus issue.
The two countries appear to be on course to start exploratory contacts in January. No one can predict whether they will move forward or collapse. There is a great deal of accumulated mistrust and a lot of factors that can scupper the talks at any moment. The Turkey of 2021 is not the Turkey of 2004, nor even of 2015. It has an entirely different view of itself. It sees itself as a rising great power in a period of change and as the United States retreats, and has become much more aggressive.
Ankara insists on an extremely broad agenda. Unlike in the past, there is more than one decision-making center today, with a constant tug-of-war taking place between presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, as they try to influence the Turkish president.
What is certain is that Turkey will seek to lay the blame on someone else in case talks fail. It is already setting the stage for this eventuality, accusing Greece of avoiding a full-fledged dialogue.
Athens is betting on the new U.S. administration. But it will take some time for Washington’s moods to show. People in key positions are well aware of the Greek-Turkish and Cypriot dossiers but have many other priorities. It remains to be seen whether Germany will continue to mediate in Greek-Turkish relations, as was the case under outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump.
Berlin’s involvement so far has not yielded significant results and it is most likely that Washington will resume its solo role, though this, as always, will be in cooperation with the Europeans.
The potential for reaching a major compromise is there but it is not significant. Calculations of the domestic political costs, especially if we go to elections next year, on the one hand, and Ankara’s maximalist agenda, on the other, point to a path littered with obstacles.
One issue where there can be no trace of optimism is on Cyprus. Partition looks unavoidable, and without any territorial exchange or other benefits, as in the past. It is too early to predict who will have to swallow this bitter pill and when, but it looks like avoiding it will be difficult.
(A version of this column was originally published by Kathimerini and reproduced by permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.)