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Sunday’s Athens rally a moment of truth for Greeks under thumb of EU-imposed austerity

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Hundreds of thousands of Greeks took to the streets of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, on Sunday, January 21, in a mass rally opposing a compromise on the part of the Greek government regarding the Macedonia name dispute with Greece’s northern neighbor, temporarily recognized by the United Nations as the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM).
As talks between the governments of Greece and FYROM have progressed, seemingly out of the blue and after a very long period of dormancy, a significant percentage of the populace in Greece is seizing the opportunity to participate in the first large-scale street demonstrations in the country since the days leading up to July 5, 2015 referendum rejecting an austerity proposal put forth by Greece’s creditors. That referendum result was of course subsequently rejected by the “radical left” SYRIZA-led coalition government.
The Thessaloniki rally was, for many of its participants, more than just an opportunity to have their voice heard regarding the Macedonia name dispute. It was also a chance to speak out against the numerous other difficulties ordinary Greeks are facing, in the midst of an economic crisis that has been ongoing since 2010. Some of the speakers at the rally, and many participants as well, spoke out against austerity, forced home foreclosures and seizures, privatizations, and a host of other policies that the current government promised to oppose but instead has faithfully implemented since taking office in January 2015.

The Thessaloniki rally was, for many of its participants, more than just an opportunity to have their voice heard regarding the Macedonia name dispute. It was also a chance to speak out against the numerous other difficulties ordinary Greeks are facing, in the midst of an economic crisis that has been ongoing since 2010.

This promises to be the case this coming Sunday as well, at the follow-up rally being organized in Athens. This rally is set to take place in Syntagma Square, outside Greece’s parliament, the site of many massive protests in the past, including the “Indignants” movement opposing austerity in the spring and summer of 2011. And — while numerous representatives of SYRIZA were quick to label the Thessaloniki rally “fascist” or “nationalistic,” the purported domain of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party — Sunday’s rally in Athens will feature, as one of its main speakers, Greek composer and cultural icon Mikis Theodorakis, who is widely associated with the Greek left.
SYRIZA’s “success story”: calling austerity by a different name
When the SYRIZA-led Greek government isn’t busy denouncing the demonstrations, it is touting its economic “success story” and Greece’s supposed exit, in August, from its memorandum (loan) agreements with the country’s “troika” (the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) of lenders. SYRIZA has boasted about the country’s forthcoming exit from these memorandum agreements — including the one it implemented in July 2015 following its rejection of the referendum result — since the summer of 2017.
Most recently, such claims were repeated by non-elected Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. In a softball interview with Reuters earlier this week — where Tsakalotos was pictured in his office with a decal of the PAOK football club, owned by pro-SYRIZA oligarch Ivan Savvidis, in the background — Tsakalotos stated:

“We’ve been outperforming our fiscal targets, the economy is returning. … To those people who think we need something more, like a precautionary credit line or whatever, they are just pushing the key question back and I don’t see any reason for that.”

According to Tsakalotos, Greece will not only emerge from the memorandum agreements and troika oversight in August, it will also not require a precautionary credit line to fund the country’s needs in the short term. Instead, Tsakalotos claims, the government has built a “safety net” of funds that can last the country a year or more. Tsakalotos went on to issue vague promises regarding growth, “reforms,” social policies, talks regarding debt relief, and an economy that is turning the corner.

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in the Greek finance ministry in Athens, January 30, 2018. A decal of the Ivan Savvidis-owned PAOK football club is visible in the background (REUTERS/Costas Baltas)


What went unmentioned by both Tsakalotos and the Reuters journalists, however, is that an exit from the memorandum agreements in no way absolves Greece from the harsh austerity that has been implemented there since 2010. While SYRIZA is attempting to market an “exit from the memorandums” as a selling point in light of parliamentary elections — slated to be held no later than September 2019 — and European parliamentary elections in the spring of 2019, such an exit simply signifies the conclusion of the loan agreements the current and previous governments signed with the troika.
The austerity measures, privatizations, salary and pension cuts, and all of the other measures implemented during the years during which the Greek economy was purportedly being “bailed out,” will remain in place. Indeed, as will be shown below, it’s full steam ahead for all of these policies.

While SYRIZA is attempting to market an “exit from the memorandums” as a selling point in light of parliamentary elections — slated to be held no later than September 2019 — and European parliamentary elections in the spring of 2019, such an exit simply signifies the conclusion of the loan agreements the current and previous governments signed with the troika.

As part of the SYRIZA-led government’s propaganda efforts, the Greek state “re-entered the bond markets” in the spring of 2017, via a €3 billion bond sale. It was the first such entry into the markets for Greece since late 2013, when the coalition government of the center-right New Democracy and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) completed a bond tender, again amidst proclamations of a Greek “success story.”
What went unmentioned in the Reuters interview, however, is that the bond yield (interest rate) of 4.625 percent was not only much higher than that of other crisis-hit countries in Europe, but higher than or comparable to that of such economic superpowers as Vietnam and Botswana.
These claims of a Greek economy on the rebound were repeated by SYRIZA and by media mouthpieces following last spring’s bond tender, even though the journalists in the aforementioned piece seem to have overlooked this bond issue, stating that one has not taken place in over three years.

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, speaks with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel during their meeting at Maximos Mansion in Athens, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Gabriel is in Greece on a two-day visit as he is suggesting his country could offer to pay more money into the European Union, arguing that investing in Europe is “an investment in our own future.” (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)


Tsipras and media hallucinate a Golden Age
German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung recently described Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as the man who might go down in history for saving Greece from foreign economic supervision, while the Financial Times, in early January, fawned over Greece’s “remarkable turnaround” under Tsipras’ leadership. Another German newspaper, Die Welt, also gushed over Greece’s economic recovery in 2017, writing that Tsipras may even be able to solve Greece’s debt problem and, perhaps mockingly, added that he might even finally wear a tie.
Tsipras, in an interview on New Year’s Day, described 2018 as “the year of Greece” and has repeated the claim that Greece will emerge from the memorandums in August. At his annual State of the Nation speech at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair in September 2017, Tsipras promised an exit from the bailouts in 2018, “help” for workers and youth, and an end to creditor supervision of the Greek economy.
Such boasts on the part of the SYRIZA-led Greek government, and such omissions on the part of the global mainstream media, overlook the inconvenient reality that, barring some truly radical change, Greece will in no way be able to absolve itself of austerity and international financial oversight for the foreseeable future. This is because of the commitments the current government has made, which chain the country to a strict set of economic measures for decades to come.
Seeing through the mirage: what’s really on the horizon
Initially, in May 2016, the Greek parliament passed a 7,500 page omnibus bill, sans any parliamentary debate, that transferred control over all of the country’s public assets to a fund controlled by the EU’s European Stability Mechanism for a period of 99 years – that is, until the year 2115. Not even Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled that far into the future!
Second, Greece’s loan commitments to the “troika” of lenders are set to continue, at the current rate of repayment, until 2059, as reported recently by the German newspaper Handelsblatt. That is the year when Greece is expected to have repaid the balance of the loans it has received, as part of its so-called “bailouts,” since 2010.

Greece’s loan commitments to the “troika” of lenders are set to continue, at the current rate of repayment, until 2059.

The same article pointed out that the Greek government has made commitments to implement further austerity measures through 2022. These measures — totaling 5.5 billion euros and agreed upon in June 2017 in what is, in essence, a fourth memorandum — include no less than 113 demands on the part of the troika, encompassing new privatizations of public assets and pension reductions. Other measures foreseen as part of this deal include a reduction in the tax-free income threshold and the further dilution of already-decimated worker rights. No increase in the also-decimated minimum wage is foreseen, nor are any new social measures to be implemented until 2023, despite Tsakalotos’ promises to the contrary.
In connection with this agreement, assets slated for privatization include such strategic holdings as 25 percent of Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, the remaining regional airports that have not already been privatized, Greece’s national defense industry, and the Corinth Canal.

The same article pointed out that the Greek government has made commitments to implement further austerity measures through 2022. These measures — totaling 5.5 billion euros and agreed upon in June 2017 in what is, in essence, a fourth memorandum — include no less than 113 demands on the part of the troika, encompassing new privatizations of public assets and pension reductions.

Third, the SYRIZA-led coalition government has committed to the maintenance of annual primary budget surpluses of 3.5 percent through 2023, and then 2 percent annually through 2060. In plain language, what this means is that the state will spend less than it earns in revenues. If revenues therefore decrease, expenditures will be slashed accordingly. And, as foreseen in the 2017 deal between the Greek government and the troika, should there be shortfalls in these fiscal targets, automatic budget and spending cuts are to be immediately implemented through at least 2022.
Here it should be noted that the net revenues of the Greek state declined in 2017, falling to €51.27 billion from €54.16 billion in 2016, leading in turn to a reduction in the pre-tax primary budget surplus from €2.78 billion to €1.97 billion. With state expenditures having reached €55.51 billion, Greece now faces a post-interest deficit of €4.24 billion, resulting in an increase in the country’s public debt. These figures will inevitably lead to imposition of the automatic cuts agreed upon with the troika in 2017.

Τhe SYRIZA-led coalition government has committed to the maintenance of annual primary budget surpluses of 3.5 percent through 2023, and then 2 percent annually through 2060.

For those keeping score: Greece’s economy was said to be in dire crisis and endangering the whole of the Eurozone in 2009 with a debt-to-GDP ratio of approximately 127 percent. In 2017, after eight years of “bailouts,” this figure reached 179 percent. Yet the Greek economy is being touted as a “success story” and one that will, of course, remain firmly placed within the Eurozone.
While taking its backwards victory lap, the SYRIZA-led government has made celebratory claims regarding the reduction in Greece’s official unemployment rate, which once hovered close to 30 percent but has since declined to 20.7 percent. It bears noting though that the total and per capita costs of labor have remained steady during this period, indicating that new jobs that are being created are on the very low end of the income scale. Furthermore, the percentage of those employed part-time or otherwise underemployed has increased in recent years. These individuals are not officially considered to be unemployed.

Greece’s economy was said to be in dire crisis and endangering the whole of the Eurozone in 2009 with a debt-to-GDP ratio of approximately 127 percent. In 2017, after eight years of “bailouts,” this figure reached 179 percent. Yet the Greek economy is being touted as a “success story” and one that will, of course, remain firmly placed within the Eurozone.

What also bears mentioning is the frightening “brain drain” — mass emigration — of Greeks during the years of the economic crisis. Approximately 500,000 to 600,000 Greeks are said to have left the country during the past decade. These losses do not just consist of unskilled or low-skilled laborers: 12,408 medical doctors, to take one example, have emigrated in the past 10 years. This means fewer skilled and educated professionals are living in Greece, spending their incomes in Greece, paying taxes in Greece, and contributing to Greece’s pension system.
In other words, unemployment is on the decline, just as long as all the unemployed give up and leave the country or accept low-wage jobs for which they are overqualified, receiving a pittance as an income.
Further illustrating the above, Greece ranks second in the world in negative wealth growth during the 2007 to 2017 period. On average, Greek households lost 37 percent of their wealth over this period, second only to Venezuela at 48 percent.

In this Thursday, May 18, 2017 photo, Greek pensioners stand with other retirees as they gather to take part in an anti-austerity rally in central Athens. Greek retirees say they are struggling to survive on ever dwindling pensions with repeated cuts imposed by successive governments as part of their country’s three international bailouts. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)


More austerity yet to come
In January, the SYRIZA-led coalition government voted into law a new omnibus bill, totaling 1,531 pages, that is chock full of new cuts and still more austerity for Greece’s ravaged populace. What do this bill’s measures encompass? Some highlights of the newly-passed legislation include:

  • Cuts to social benefits to all but the lowest-income households.
  • The establishment of an “energy stock market” and further “liberalization” of Greece’s energy marketplace. A similar scheme implemented in California in 2001 resulted in “rolling blackouts” in much of the state.
  • The implementation of electronic auctions for home foreclosures and seizures, which will now include primary residences that were previously protected under the law. The establishment of electronic auctions will enable a well-organized protest movement at courthouses throughout Greece, which successfully prevented numerous auctions, to be bypassed.
  • Creation of a similar electronic auction scheme, where the assets of those with outstanding debts as low as 500 euros to the Greek state, will be auctioned.
  • The merger of schools and subsequent shutdown of schoolhouses all across the country.
  • A severe curtailment of workers’ right to strike.
  • The integration of 14 key public services and utilities into the existing “privatization mega-fund.” These assets include a significant share of the Public Power Corporation (DEI), majority stakes in the Athens and Thessaloniki water systems, the national postal service, the Athens public transportation network, and the main Athens Olympic facilities, including the Olympic Stadium.

It bears remembering that SYRIZA, prior to its initial election in 2015, campaigned on a platform of stopping further sell-offs of public assets and reversing previous privatizations. These measures come in addition to previous agreements that the SYRIZA-led government made with the troika, which will lead to the loss of the equivalent of up to three monthly pension payments for recipients beginning in 2019, and additional pension reductions impacting 2.7 million recipients, who will face cuts of up to 40 percent.
Even employees at SYRIZA’s owned-and-operated media outlets, including the “Sto Kokkino” radio station and the Avgi newspaper, have faced cuts. Three workers at “Sto Kokkino” were recently fired for refusing to sign a new contract that would have reduced their salaries by 20 percent. These firings have led to employees staging repeated work stoppages at these outlets.
A moment of truth?
These are not the signs of an economy that is recovering. They are instead signs of an economy that continues to sputter, ravaged by austerity and widespread public despair.
It is this despair that might show its face at Sunday’s protest outside of the Greek parliament in Athens. It could be said that this is the moment of truth for the Greek people, who were lulled into complacency after the overwhelming referendum result rejecting troika-imposed austerity was overturned by the SYRIZA-led government that many once believed would keep its campaign promises, stand up to the creditors, and end austerity.
Will Sunday’s rally be as big as many in Greece are expecting, and will it have any tangible political result, above and beyond the Macedonia name dispute that served as its initial impetus? We should find out soon enough.
This analysis originally appeared in MintPress NewsOpinions are those of the author alone and may not reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Hellenic Insider, its publisher, its editors, or its staff, writers, and contributors.

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‘Hell on Earth’: MSF doctor tells RT of rape, violence, inhumane conditions in Lesbos refugee camp

One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

Alex Christoforou

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One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

The overcrowded camp on the island of Lesbos, built to accommodate 3,100, houses around 9,000 people. “It’s a kind of hell on Earth in Europe,” Dr. Alessandro Barberio, an MSF clinical psychiatrist, said, adding that people in the camp suffer from lack of water and medical care. “It is impossible to stay there,” he said.

According to Barberio, asylum seekers are subjected to violence “during night and day.””There is also sexual violence”which leads to “mental health issues,” he said, adding that all categories of people at the camp may be subjected to it. “There is rape against men, women and children,” and the victims of sexual violence in the camp often have nightmares and hallucinations, Barberio told RT.

Asylum seekers in Moria “are in constant fear of violence,” and these fears are not groundless, the psychiatrist said. “Such cases [of violence] take place every week.”

There is “one toilet for 72 people, one shower for 84 people. The sanitation is bad. People are suffering from bad conditions,” Michael Raeber, an aid worker at the camp, told RT. They suffer from mental health problems because they are kept for a long time in the camp, according to Raeber.

“There is no perspective, they don’t know how their case will go on, when they will ever be able to leave the island.” The camp is a “place where there is no rule of law,” with rampant violence and drug addiction among the inhabitants, Raeber said.

In its latest report, MSF, which has been working near Moria since late 2017, criticized the unprecedented health crisis in the camp – one of the biggest in Greece. About a third of the camp population consists of children, and many of them have harmed themselves, and have thought about or attempted suicide, according to the group.

Barberio was behind an MSF open letter on the state of emergency in Moria, released on Monday, in which he writes that he has never “witnessed such overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental health conditions.”

Calling the camp an “island prison,” he insisted that many of his patients in the camp are unable to perform basic everyday functions, “such as sleeping, eating well, maintaining personal hygiene, and communicating.”

A number of human rights groups have strongly criticized the conditions at the camp and Greece’s “containment policy”regarding asylum seekers.

Christina Kalogirou, the regional governor of the North Aegean, which includes Lesbos, has repeatedly threatened to shut down the facility unless the government improves the conditions. On Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that Greece will move 2,000 asylum seekers out of the severely overcrowded camp and send them to the mainland by the end of September.

Greece, like other EU states, is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since WWII. According to International Organization for Migration estimates, 22,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece since the start of this year alone.

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Greece: “Humanitarian Aid” Organization’s People-Smuggling

Greek NGO evidently received 2,000 euros from each illegal immigrant it helped to enter Greece.

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Authored by Maria Polizoidou of Gatestone Institute:


  • Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI) describes itself as a “Greek nonprofit organization that provides emergency response and humanitarian aid in times of crisis….” It has reportedly abetted the illegal entry into Greece of 70,000 immigrants since 2015, providing the “nonprofit” with half a billion euros per year.
  • ECRI evidently received 2,000 euros from each illegal immigrant it helped to enter Greece. In addition, its members created a business for “integrating refugees” into Greek society, granting it 5,000 euros per immigrant per year from various government programs (in education, housing and nutrition).
  • With the government of Greece seemingly at a loss as to how to handle its refugee crisis and safeguard the security of its citizens, it is particularly dismaying to discover that the major NGO whose mandate is to provide humanitarian aid to immigrants is instead profiting from smuggling them.

Migrants arrive at a beach on the Greek island of Kos after crossing part of the Aegean sea from Turkey in a rubber dinghy, on August 15, 2015. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

On August 28, thirty members of the Greek NGO Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI) were arrested for their involvement in a people-smuggling network that has been operating on the island of Lesbos since 2015. According to a statement released by Greek police, as a result of the investigation that led to the arrests, “The activities of an organised criminal network that systematically facilitated the illegal entry of foreigners were fully exposed.”

Among the activities uncovered were forgery, espionage and the illegal monitoring of both the Greek coastguard and the EU border agency, Frontex, for the purpose of gleaning confidential information about Turkish refugee flows. The investigation also led to the discovery of an additional six Greeks and 24 foreign nationals implicated in the case.

ERCI describes itself as:

“[A] Greek nonprofit organization that provides emergency response and humanitarian aid in times of crisis. ERCI’s philosophy is to identify the gaps of humanitarian aid and step in to assist in the most efficient and impactful manner. Currently ERCI has 4 active programs working with refugees in Greece in the areas of Search and Rescue, Medical, Education and Refugee Camp Coordination.”

In spite of its stated mission and non-profit profile, however, ECRI — according to Greek authorities, has earned considerable sums of money from its serving as a conduit for illegal activities. ECRI evidently received 2,000 euros from each illegal immigrant it helped to enter Greece. In addition, its members created a business for “integrating refugees” into Greek society, granting it 5,000 euros per immigrant per year from various government programs (in education, housing and nutrition). ERCI has reportedly abetted the illegal entry into Greece of 70,000 immigrants since 2015, providing the “non-profit” with half a billion euros per year.

This revelation, however, does not begin to cover the extent of the illegal activities surrounding the entry of migrants into Greece. In 2017, for instance, Greek authorities arrested 1,399 people-smugglers, some under the cover of “humanitarian” operations; and during the first four months of 2018, authorities arrested 25,594 illegal immigrants.

More worrisome than the literally steep price paid to people-smugglers by the immigrants themselves — or that doled out by the Greek government in the form of integration subsidies — is the toll the situation is taking on Greek society as a whole.

According to Greek police statistics, there were 75,707 robberies and burglaries reported in 2017. Of these cases only 15,048 were solved, and 4,207 were committed by aliens. In addition, the police estimate that more than 40% of serious crimes were committed by illegal immigrants. (Legal and illegal immigrants in Greece make up 10-15% of the total population.)

In 2016, Greek prisons reportedly contained 4,246 Greeks and 5,221 foreigners convicted of serious crimes: 336 for homicide; 101 for attempted homicide; 77 for rape; and 635 for robbery. In addition, thousands of cases are still pending trial.

In a recent heart-wrenching case on August 15, a 25-year-old college student from Athens — on a visit home from his studies at a university in Scotland — was murdered by three illegal immigrants while he was out touring the city with a female friend from Portugal.

The three perpetrators, two Pakistanis and an Iraqi ranging in age from 17 to 28, told police that they first attacked the young woman, stealing money, credit cards, a passport and a cell phone from her purse, but when they realized that her phone was “old,” they went for the young man’s phone, threatening him with a knife. When he tried to fend them off, they said in their confession, they shoved him and he fell off a cliff to his death. After the interrogation, it transpired that the three killers were wanted for 10 additional robberies in the area.

In an angry letter to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, members of parliament and the mayor of Athens, the mother of the victim accused Tsipras of “criminal negligence” and “complicity” in her son’s murder.

“Instead of welcoming and providing “land and water” to every criminal and dangerous individual with savage instincts,” she wrote, “should the state not think first of the safety of its own citizens, whose blood it drinks daily [economically]? [Should the state] abandon [its citizens] to ravenous gangs, for whom the worth of a human life has less meaning than the value of a cell phone or a gold chain?”

Although those were the words of a grieving mother, they are sentiments widely felt and expressed throughout Greece, where such incidents are increasingly common.

On August 29, two weeks after that murder, six immigrants in northern Greece verbally assaulted a 52-year-old man on the street, apparently for no reason. When he ignored them and kept walking, one of them stabbed him in the shoulder blade with a 24-cm (9.4-inch) knife, landing him in the hospital.

Two days earlier, on August 27, approximately 100 immigrants, protesting the living conditions in their camp in Malakasa, blocked the National Highway for more than three hours. Drivers stuck on the road said that some of the protestors went on a rampage, bashing cars with blocks of wood. To make matters worse, police on the scene said that they had not received instructions from the Ministry of Citizen Protection to clear the highway or protect the victims. Gatestone was told upon further queries, that there was no official statement from the police or the ministry, just the drivers’ statements.

With the government of Greece seemingly at a loss as to how to handle its migrant crisis and safeguard the security of its citizens, it is particularly dismaying to discover that the major NGO whose mandate is to provide humanitarian aid to immigrants is instead profiting from smuggling them. The recent arrest of ERCI members underscores the need to scrutinize all such organizations.

Maria Polizoidou, a reporter, broadcast journalist, and consultant on international and foreign affairs, is based in Greece. She has a post-graduate degree in “Geopolitics and Security Issues in the Islamic complex of Turkey and Middle East” from the University of Athens.

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Turkey’s Latest Power Grab: A Naval Base In Cyprus?

“If Greek-Turkish tensions escalate, the possibility of another ill-timed military provocation could escalate with them… Moreover, such a conflict might open up an even greater opportunity for Russian interference.” — Lawrence A. Franklin.

The Duran

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Authored by Debalina Ghoshal via The Gatestone Institute:


  • The possibility of a Turkish naval base on Cyprus does not bode well for the chances of a Cyprus reunification deal, particularly after the breakdown of the July 2017 peace talks, which were suspended when “Turkey had refused to relinquish its intervention rights on Cyprus or the presence of troops on the island.” Turkey has 30,000 soldiers stationed on Cyprus, the northern part of which it has illegally occupied since 1974.

Turkey’s Naval Forces Command has “submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating that Turkey should establish a naval base in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” according to Turkey’s strongly pro-Erdogan daily, Yeni Safak, which recently endorsed the proposal for the base in an article entitled, “Why Turkey should establish a naval base in Northern Cyprus.”

“The base will enable the protection of Northern Cyprus’ sovereignty as well as facilitate and fortify Turkey’s rights and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, preventing the occupation of sea energy fields, and strengthening Turkey’s hand in the Cyprus peace process talks.”

Having a naval base in northern Cyprus would also strengthen the self-proclaimed “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” which is recognized only by Turkey. Cyprus is strategically important: a naval base there would give Turkey easier access to the Eastern Mediterranean’s international trade routes and greater control over the vast undersea energy resources around Cyprus. In the past, Turkey has blocked foreign vessels from drilling for these resources; in June, Turkey began its own exploration of the island’s waters for gas and oil.

This is not the first time that Turkey has set its sights on the area’s resources. In 2014, Ankara dispatched surveillance vessels and warships to Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to search for hydrocarbons. This incident took place just before the leaders of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt deepened their an energy-cooperation, “freezing Turkey out.” As soon as the accord was signed, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades blasted “Turkey’s provocative actions,” saying that they “do not just compromise the peace talks [between Greek and Turkish Cypriots]… [but] also affect security in the eastern Mediterranean region.”

At the time, UN-brokered reunification negotiations, which had been renewed after a long hiatus, ended unsuccessfully yet again, as a result of Turkey’s search for hydrocarbons in the EEZ. According to a November 2014 report in the Guardian:

“Turkey’s decision to dispatch a research vessel into disputed waters last month not only resulted in talks being broken off but has exacerbated the row over drilling rights.”

The possibility of a Turkish naval base does not bode well for the chances of a Cyprus reunification deal, particularly after the breakdown of the July 2017 peace talks between Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. The talks were suspended when “Turkey had refused to relinquish its intervention rights on Cyprus or the presence of troops on the island.” Turkey has 30,000 soldiers stationed on Cyprus, the northern part of which it has illegally occupied since 1974.

Another factor that may be contributing to the Turkish Navy’s desire for a base in Cyprus is Israel. Aside from Ankara’s extremely rocky relations with Jerusalem, Israel and Cyprus have been working to forge an agreement to join their electricity grids and construct a pipeline to link their gas fields to mainland Europe. Although they are in a dispute over development rights of one of these gas fields, Aphrodite, they are invested in reaching a solution that will not damage their increasingly friendly relations.

Erdogan’s considerations should concern NATO, of which Turkey, surprisingly, is still a member, and the rest of the West. As Lawrence A. Franklin recently wrote for Gatestone:

“If Greek-Turkish tensions escalate, the possibility of another ill-timed military provocation could escalate with them. The ability of NATO to respond to other conflicts in the area could be affected, as well as NATO air and naval assets based in both countries. Moreover, such a conflict might open up an even greater opportunity for Russian interference.”

Debalina Ghoshal, an independent consultant specializing in nuclear and missile issues, is based in India.

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