January 2022 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 December 2021
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EUROPE

Cyprus

Expected Council Action

In January, Security Council members are expected to receive a briefing in consultations on the situation in Cyprus. Recently appointed Special Representative and head of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) Colin Stewart is expected to brief. A representative from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs may also brief. The Council is expected to renew UNFICYP’s mandate ahead of its 31 January expiry.

Key Recent Developments

On 27 September 2021, Secretary-General António Guterres hosted an informal meeting with Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar in an effort to find common ground for the resumption of peace talks. Anastasiades reportedly said after the meeting that the two leaders exchanged views while maintaining their divergent positions. Anastasiades remains firmly committed to a settlement based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation (BBF) with political equality as stipulated in previous Security Council resolutions, while Tatar insists on a two-state solution based on sovereign equality. The leaders also discussed various ways of overcoming the current deadlock and creating prospects for resuming “a creative dialogue”. More specifically, they discussed the appointment of a UN envoy to succeed Jane Holl Lute, who resigned the week prior to the meeting after accepting a senior position at an international energy and petrochemical company.

Lute was hired as a UN consultant in August 2018, and later referred to as UN Senior Official, to conduct consultations with the parties on the Secretary-General’s behalf and to finalise the terms of reference for the peace negotiations. Following news of Lute’s resignation, it appears that Guterres was considering the appointment of a personal or special envoy to assume her responsibilities. (Special envoys are usually assigned to undertake special missions related to matters of which the Security Council or the General Assembly are seized, while personal envoys undertake missions at the Secretary-General’s initiative.)

According to media reports, Turkish Cypriot leader Tatar objected to the appointment of a special envoy, arguing that such an envoy’s ability to find common ground would be constrained by being forced to operate strictly within the BBF framework outlined in Security Council resolutions. A personal envoy, he suggested, would have greater autonomy to explore new ideas, including his proposed two-state solution. At the time of writing, Guterres had yet to appoint a new envoy.

On 4 November 2021, Guterres appointed Colin Stewart to succeed Elizabeth Spehar as Special Representative and head of UNFICYP. Stewart arrived on the island on 6 December 2021 and has since taken a tour of the buffer zone and held separate meetings with Anastasiades and Tatar.

From 2 to 4 December 2021, Pope Francis visited Cyprus to advocate for the rights of migrants and refugees. The number of refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Cyprus began to rise significantly in 2018. The internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus (RoC) received a total of 12,724 asylum applications in 2019, followed by a drop in 2020 resulting from COVID-19-related travel restrictions. In 2021, the number of applications once again increased. Between January and September, 8,605 people applied for refugee and asylum status, with an additional 6,483 applications pending. According to government officials, the vast majority of migrants entered the country illegally through the UN buffer zones. RoC authorities maintain that the situation is overwhelming state institutions and, as a result, submitted a request to the European Commission on 10 November 2021 to suspend applications for asylum by individuals entering the country illegally.

Key Issues and Options

Since the collapse of the 2017 unification talks in Crans-Montana, the key issue for the Security Council has been the lack of meaningful progress on the political front and the diminishing prospects for reaching a political settlement of the Cyprus problem. Given the current deadlock, the Council could take several actions to revive the peace process. It could encourage the parties to approach negotiations on the basis of “engagement without recognition” and undertake significant confidence-building measures, which could help facilitate the resumption of negotiations.

The Council could also urge the parties to create a Track II process to complement Track I diplomatic efforts that rely on official contacts between authorities. A Track II component, involving unofficial interactions, could broaden the inclusivity of the peace talks and advance reconciliation and peacebuilding objectives. In this regard, the Council could call for the appointment of a new UN Special Envoy for Cyprus to oversee Track II processes, in addition to confidence-building measures and laying the groundwork for the resumption of Track I negotiations.

Another important issue, which the Council has increasingly emphasised over recent years, is the need to establish a mechanism for direct military contacts between the opposing forces in Cyprus, facilitated by UNFICYP. In its January 2020 mandate renewal resolution, the Council called for the establishment of such a mechanism and specifically urged UNFICYP to submit proposals to this end. UNFICYP presented its proposal to the parties in May 2020, and former Special Representative Spehar engaged in talks with both sides on the way forward. Considering heightened tensions in Cyprus and the ongoing violations in the fenced-off area of Varosha, the Council could put more pressure on the parties to form a military committee to help defuse tensions and prevent the escalation of violence.

Council Dynamics

Cyprus remains a low-intensity issue on the Council’s agenda. Council members with a special interest in Cyprus that follow the issue closely include France, Russia and the UK. In addition to being a guarantor power, the UK also serves as the penholder on this issue.

While the Council is united in its support for UNFICYP and a political process based on a BBF with political equality, members differ on the conditions and timeframe for the unification talks. Some seem to share the view that this process cannot be open-ended and that the Council could apply more pressure on the parties to revive the negotiations.

The US has emphasised that peacekeeping missions must support political processes and that the Council should reconsider the mandates of missions where progress on the political track is absent. During past UNFICYP mandate renewal negotiations, the US has supported a comprehensive strategic review of the mission as well as benchmarks and timelines for an exit strategy tied to the political process. Russia, however, has strongly opposed any attempt to exert pressure on both sides and affect negotiations in any way, maintaining that the process must be Cypriot-led and Cypriot-owned to achieve lasting results. It views UNFICYP as an instrument not to exert political pressure but to maintain security and monitor compliance with the buffer zone.

Most Council members seem wary of initiating drastic changes to the mission’s mandate and size. Given the absence of progress in the unification talks, however, the US position might gain more support from other members that have been cautious on this issue. Nonetheless, Russia is likely to oppose any changes to the status quo.

UN DOCUMENTS ON CYPRUS
Security Council Resolutions
29 July 2021S/RES/2587 This renewed the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another six months, until 31 January 2022.
Security Council Presidential Statements
23 July 2021S/PRST/2021/13 This presidential statement reaffirms the status of Varosha as set out in previous resolutions and condemned the announcement in Cyprus by Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leaders on 20 July 2021 on the further reopening of a part of the fenced-off area of Varosha.
Secretary-General’s Reports
9 July 2021S/2021/634 This was the report of the Secretary-General on his mission of good offices in Cyprus.
9 July 2021S/2021/635 This was a report on UNFICYP.

 

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