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Saturday, 24 January 2015

Russian Military Base in Cyprus?

Stanislav Osadchiy, the Russian Ambassador to Cyprus, has recently expressed his interest in a Russian military base in Cyprus. This news comes as Nicos Anastasiades, the President of Cyprus, announced that the Turkish withdrawal from the Exclusive Economic Zone would not be enough to allow the unification negotiations to continue. The announcement also comes as Nicos Anastasiades plans to visit Moscow in just a month's time.

Answering questions from journalists, Osadchiy confirmed that Russia had an interest in an agreement providing military facilitation in Cyprus. He added that Moscow's contacts with the Cypriot Foreign Ministry at the moment were mostly concerning the preparation of bilateral agreements to be signed during Anastasiades' visit to the Russian capital. Osadchiy also said the he is closely following developments concerning the Cyprus unification problem and the island's natural gas resources. He also revealed that he has discussed the Turkish incursion with the Cypriot Foreign Minister, Ioannis Kasoulides, and Russia's will is to break the deadlock from all sides. Osadchiy also said that "we are doing everything to improve the already good relations between the two countries."

But how would a Russian military base fit in on an island which also has two British military bases?

Well, Britain and Russia are hardly close allies. Whether they would agree to sharing Cyprus' military potential between them is an interesting question. Akrotiri and Dhekelia have been an integral part of Cyprus since 1960, and the enterprise was supported by Turkey and Greece and both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities. Would the Turkish Cypriots welcome a Russian base in the same way they welcomed a British base? The British are seen as impartial - they used to rule the entire island, but they don't have a local interest. They are fundamentally detached from Cyprus geographically, unlike Russia.

The British use RAF Akrotiri to house the United States' Operation Olive Harvest - two U2 spy planes that are officially used to observe the Israeli-Egyptian cease fire. This begs the question of whether or not Russia would use their military base for purposes that were not particularly moral, such as the US rendition flights that landed at Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory. And some people no doubt have concerns that a similar Russian base might lead to similar things happening. And if Russia ends up in opposition to Britain again, what would that make Cyprus? A warzone?

Too many questions remain unanswered as to the conditions of the base. I doubt it would advance the unification process, that's for sure. It could even divide the two regions further, if the Turkish Cypriots oppose the development but the Russians go ahead anyway. And who knows what the UK's reaction would be? We might have to wait until Anastasiades' visit to Moscow is concluded before we have answers to some of these questions.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Cyprus and Turkey - Oil Troubles

The Republic of Cyprus adopted the Territorial Sea Law in 1964. The law established a 12 nautical mile territorial waters. Coordinates of these territorial waters were submitted to the United Nations in 1993 and were reconfirmed in 1996. Cyprus ratified the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1988, and in 2004 they adopted a new law which limited its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by 12 nautical miles. The EEZ was established through bilateral agreements with Israel, Egypt and Lebanon.

The area of highest interest to Cyprus within their EEZ is block 12, which is approximately 3,200km2 in size and borders Israel's own EEZ. In November 2008, the Houston-based Noble Energy received permission to begin exploring block 12, otherwise known as the Aphrodite field. In August 2011, Noble Energy entered into a production-sharing agreement with the Cypriot government regarding the block's commercial development. Sources in Cyprus indicated in mid-September that Noble Energy had commenced exploratory drilling on the block. Although threatened by Turkey, the drilling, which was backed by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, went ahead without incident on 19 September 2011. Noble Energy managed to return 2.6 to 6 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas.

More recently, the South Korean-Italian joint venture, ENI-Kogas, have not found enough commercially exploitable natural gas in their first exploratory drilling at the Onasagoras field in block 9. ENI-Kogas also hold concessions on blocks 2 and 3, as well as block 9. According to the Cypriot energy ministry, headed by George Lakkotrypis, ENI-Kogas will complete drilling in the Onasagoras field in the next few days and move on to the Amathusa field, also located in block 9. The company has identified six potential gas fields in the block in total.

French energy giant Total has licences to explore blocks 10 and 11, both of which border the Egyptian waters of the Nile Delta. Total plans to begin work in 2015.

This is all well and good, but the area around ENI-Kogas' drilling has become the focus of a dispute between Cyprus and Turkey, which has dispatched its own research vessel to the area. The move came after Ankara, the Turkish capital, issued a maritime notice (NAVTEX) reserving certain areas of the EEZ for surveys from 20 October to 30 December. Turkey's action prompted a strong international response, with the Greek Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Evangelos Venizelos condemning it as a "brutal violation of the international law of the sea."

This is not the first time Turkey have used physical force to try and stop or damage Cypriot efforts to drill. In November 2008, Turkish naval vessels harassed Cyprus contracted vessels conducting seismic exploration for hydrocarbon deposits in waters south of the island. In 2011, when drilling was just beginning, Turkey organised a major air and naval exercise in the region and the Russian Navy also dispatched two nuclear attack submarines to the Eastern Mediterranean to observe the situation. Israel also increased the number of surveillance flight operations in the Eastern Mediterranean, although it was not clear whether these flight operations actually passed over the Nicosia Flight Information Region, aka Cyprus. 

Luckily, nothing kicked off in 2011, but who is to say it will not kick off this time?

In October 2014, following the incursion of the Turkish research vessel, Nicos Anastasiades suspended the reunification talks between northern and southern Cyprus. Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish Prime Minister, recently visited Greece and may well have paved the way for the resumption of talks between the two parts of Cyprus. Davutoglu met with the Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, and they held a High-Level Strategic Council meeting discussing the future of Cyprus. “On Cyprus, we want negotiations to begin as soon as possible. We held very positive talks. They will continue. We embrace the approaches that put our mutual interests forward in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Aegean," said Davutoglu.

The Turkish Cypriot negotiator, Ergun Olgun, has, just several hours ago, confirmed reports that the Turkish research vessel, Barbaros, is leaving Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone. The departure of the vessel could pave the way for the resumption of the UN-led talks between Northern Cyprus and southern Cyprus.

Friday, 26 December 2014

The Concept

I have a certain affinity for Cyprus. I've only ever spent a week there, but it was a fantastic week and ever since I have felt the urge to find out a bit more. Unfortunately, when I did have a search, I discovered that just over a year ago Cyprus had been involved in a terrible financial crisis and had to be bailed out by the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and a few others and in the process had a huge bank deposit levy, a sort of deposit tax, forced upon them by the people who were bailing them out. So, this did create a bit of a dilemma for Cyprus. Nicos Anastasiades, the President of Cyprus, has taken the reigns of the country since this happened. But Anastasiades has been making headway. Recently a new Governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus was appointed, Chrystalla Georghadji and Sir Christopher Pissarides, nobel laureate and famed Cypriot economist has recently appointed as Chairman of the Council of the National Economy. It is obvious that Anastasiades is making serious steps to deal with the debt crisis, unlike some countries that just evaded going under, such as my very own United Kingdom.

I decided to run this blog because I have been interested in freelance writing for a bit and the frequent advice is that you should really have a speciality, a niche subject that you are really quite knowledgeable on. As I already had this interest in Cyprus in general, not just in finance, I decided to run this blog, Cyprus Echo. I think it is a bit of a gap in the market, and I am trying to apeal not just to finance moguls, but to the average citizen of my country and of Cyprus. I cannot predict how successful this will be, I can only hope instead. I aim to write whatever I can garner from over here in the UK. I can only speculate on local feeling on certain subjects. What gets reported in Cypriot media, international media, is what I can write about. Finance, politics, social issues, that kind of thing. A solution to the north/south divide is a big social issue in Cyprus. I aim to write at least once every week, but plans do not always come together. Hopefully there will be lots of content - Cyprus is a country in it's own right and I'm sure there's plenty of stuff going on for me to write about.

As it is my own blog, I can offer views on things like the bank bailouts, politics, plans for reunification, the economy, currency (they joined the Eurozone recently, and some would say it caused their financial collapse), and also they've got a rather interesting policy as they are friends with Russia, and Israel, and the UK and the West in general. There may be a time rather soon when America and the UK force them to choose between the West and the East. Putin is running his country in a way that cause the West to start reacting. So, that is the plan. Wish me luck.

Andrew Williams