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Weak British diplomacy helps Russia in the Med

Chet Ramadan
September 1, 2023

The UK has remained passive and seemingly uninterested on all matters relating to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) for far too long. Successive UK governments have continued to regurgitate the same call for a bizonal bicommunal federation, despite this proposal failing to yield any results over the last half century. There is quite clearly no progress being made on this issue.

They have also failed to carry out their role as a neutral guarantor power of Cyprus. One that is meant to treat both peoples of the island as equals. This was exemplified by the British High Commissioner, Irfan Siddiq, in his woeful speech to the British Residents Society back in June 2023. Siddiq patronised British residents over their position on the Cyprus issue and their wanting for a fairer treatment of Turkish Cypriots. He also mistakenly claimed the whole time that the very constitution which granted the UK their Sovereign Base Areas is no longer in effect.

The UK’s weak position and policy towards Cyprus is leading to destabilisation in the region and the power vacuum has meant that many nations are scrambling to fill the void that the UK is currently abdicating.

Russia is one of those nations which has been eagerly eyeing an opportunity to expand its influence into the Mediterranean and they have just announced it will be offering consular services to North Cyprus. The TRNC have publicly given this a muted response with their President stating that Russia’s “partial recognition” of the TRNC will be on their terms. However, the number of Russians arriving at Ercan airport, or the sea ports of Famagusta, Kyrenia, and the Karpaz Gate Marina was over 18,000 between January and May 2023. This was almost treble the number seen in the first five months of 2022. We should not doubt that despite President Tatar’s bullish words, the reality may soon be something different.

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Russia is not the only nation looking for a foothold in the Mediterranean. The number of Iranians arriving in North Cyprus in the first five months of the year increased by over 50 per cent to over 16,000, compared to the same period last year. All the while, the UK continues to discriminate and isolate the Turkish Cypriots and ignore the fledgling state.

Of course, you cannot talk about North Cyprus and nations influencing it without mentioning Turkey. Turkey has also been making moves within North Cyprus by creating opportunities for Turkic states, and others, to develop closer relationships with the TRNC. Recently, President Tatar met with his Azeri counterpart, President Aliyev, and the Gambian Vice President Badara Joof has visited North Cyprus.

British weakness is not just affecting Northern Cyprus but also the South. France has been very clear in its overtures to Greece and Southern Cyprus with new military and economic agreements linking France and the region. This includes new French military bases being established. This is an extremely concerning development as it is a clear violation of the 1960 agreements between Cyprus, Turkey, the UK and Greece.

British weakness is not just affecting Northern Cyprus but also the South. Quote

Southern Cyprus still holds to those 1960 agreements as the basis of their legitimacy, but at the same time are allowing the terms of those agreements to be broken.

The violation of Cyprus' establishment, alliance, and guarantee agreements also puts the sovereign British bases on the island into question. If the 1960 agreements are no longer held to, there is no guarantee that Britain can rely on maintaining its position. Perhaps this is why Siddiq claimed that the SBAs no longer have any validity. Has the British government and Foreign Office accepted that those 1960 treaties are not in effect?

The UK must end their disinterest in Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean. Its discrimination against Turkish Cypriots must be brought to a close as there is a clear need build stronger ties once again. A good start would be to finally allow direct flights between the UK and the TRNC – allowing proper movement for the 300,000 British Turkish Cypriots and 10,000 expat British Residents in North Cyprus.

Chet Ramadan

Chet Ramadan is the Co-Chair of Freedom and Fairness for Northern Cyprus

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