Expected Council Action
In July, Security Council members are expected to receive a briefing in consultations on the situation in Cyprus. Special Representative and head of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) Colin Stewart is expected to brief. The Council is expected to renew UNFICYP’s mandate ahead of its 31 July expiry.
Background and Key Recent Developments
The UNFICYP mandate renewal in July will take place against the backdrop of a lack of meaningful developments on the political front. The unification talks have remained at an impasse in the five years since the collapse of negotiations at Crans-Montana in July 2017. Efforts to reinvigorate the political process and find common ground for the resumption of talks have failed to establish agreement between the two delegations to proceed with formal negotiations. Greek Cypriot leader Nicos 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 Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar insists on a two-state solution based on sovereign equality.
Negotiations on the appointment of a UN envoy on Cyprus to succeed Jane Holl Lute, who resigned in September 2021, also remain at a deadlock. Following an informal meeting between Anastasiades and Tatar, hosted by Secretary-General António Guterres on 27 September 2021, the two leaders expressed divergent positions on the specific role and mandate of the envoy. According to media reports, Tatar objected to the appointment of a UN special envoy, preferring a personal envoy. (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.) Tatar reportedly argued that while a special envoy would be constrained by having to operate strictly within the framework of the BBF with political equality, a personal envoy would have greater autonomy to explore new ideas, including his proposed two-state solution. Anastasiades reportedly reiterated the need to appoint an envoy during a meeting with Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas Miroslav Jenča on 12 April.
The issue of irregular crossings of asylum seekers, the majority of whom arrive at the Turkish Cypriot side of the island before crossing the UN-administered buffer zone, continues to be a source of tension between the sides. In 2021, over 80 percent of asylum seekers entered the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus through the buffer zone. The Republic of Cyprus has the highest number of asylum applications per capita among EU nations, with asylees making up roughly five percent of its population. According to Greek Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris, the number of asylum applications doubled to roughly 10,000 from January through May compared to the same period in 2021. After visiting the Pournara migrant reception centre on 18 June, European Commission Vice President Margharitis Schinas reportedly said that the Turkish Cypriot authorities “must also assume their share of responsibility” and that the EU will “find a way to remind them”.
In addition, the war in Ukraine has led to concerns that the global food insecurity exacerbated by the war could lead to new waves of migrants from Africa and the Middle East arriving in southern Europe. On 4 June, the interior ministers of Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain called for a more robust EU policy on migration. Criticising the EU’s voluntary policy on burden-sharing, which does not legally oblige EU members to assist each other in the area of asylum and immigration, Nouris said that “solidarity in our minds cannot be voluntary”.
Between 29 May and 2 June, the Greek Cypriot national guard and the Israeli armed forces conducted joint military drills in Cyprus as part of the countries’ bilateral defence cooperation programme. Spokesperson of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Türkiye, Tanju Bilgiç reportedly issued a statement on 4 June criticising the military exercise as “destabilizing the region”. The Republic of Cyprus and Türkiye remain locked in a dispute over the exploration of hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus. Greece, Israel and Cyprus signed a deal in January 2020 to build a pipeline delivering natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe. On 14 June, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi reportedly expressed hope during a visit to Israel that natural gas supplies from the eastern Mediterranean, possibly liquified by Egyptian processing plants, could help alleviate the effects of European dependence on Russian energy given the ongoing war in Ukraine. Russia significantly reduced natural gas supplies to Europe on 17 June.
Women, Peace and Security
Despite stalled progress on the political front, effective cooperation between the sides through the Technical Committee on Gender Equality resulted in agreement on an action plan to ensure women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in peace talks. To this end, the action plan proposes that all delegations in meetings leading up to and taking part in the settlement process include no more than two-thirds of any gender. This principle also applies to the appointment of co-chairs and members of working groups and technical committees supporting the peace talks. The plan also recommends that delegations include a gender expert to guarantee that a gender perspective is fully integrated at all levels.
The action plan also seeks to enhance engagement with civil society, including women and youth organisations, to solicit their views on the peace talks. In this regard, the Technical Committee on Gender Equality is responsible under the plan for regularly engaging with civil society in advance of and throughout the settlement process. In addition, the action plan encourages public outreach and information-sharing to inform the public of the benefits of a settlement and to improve the public atmosphere for negotiations to secure a settlement. The action plan recommends that the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot delegations develop a joint communication strategy to that end.
On 13 April, Anastasiades and Tatar attended the official launch of the action plan at a UN compound inside the buffer zone. The plan was embraced at the inauguration ceremony as an important step forward in helping revive the stalled peace talks.
Key Issues and Options
Since the collapse of the 2017 unification talks, 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.
In renewing UNFICYP’s mandate in July, the Council may wish to urge the parties to reach an agreement regarding the Secretary-General’s proposal to appoint a UN envoy on Cyprus. While the Council may reiterate its firm commitment to a peaceful settlement based on a framework of BBF with political equality, it could also reassure the parties that the envoy will not be constrained in their search for common ground for the resumption of talks.
To improve the public atmosphere for negotiating a peaceful settlement, the Council may call on the leaders to develop a joint communication strategy and urge the implementation of the action plan to promote women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in the peace process. In this regard, they may also encourage robust engagement with women and youth organisations, led by the Technical Committee on Gender Equality, to broaden the inclusivity of the peace talks and advance reconciliation and peacebuilding objectives.
Another key issue for the Council is establishing a direct military contact mechanism between the parties, facilitated by UNFICYP. In his latest report on the mission, the Secretary-General said that such a mechanism would “allow the parties to effectively alleviate day-to-day tensions in and around the buffer zone”. Positions on the mechanism’s composition, however, “remained far apart and hardly bridgeable”, as the Greek Cypriot authorities believe that the mechanism should only involve the Turkish military as opposed to Turkish Cypriot forces. In renewing UNFICYP’s mandate in July, the Council may decide to 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.
Cyprus remains a low-intensity issue on the Council’s agenda. Council members with a vested interest in Cyprus 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 the political process, members diverge on the conditions and timeframe for the unification talks. Some members have previously supported a comprehensive strategic review of the mission and timed benchmarks for an exit strategy tied to the political process. Russia remains adamant that there be no external interference or attempts to enforce solutions and schedules to influence the peace talks. While relations between the Republic of Cyprus and Russia have soured since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs posted on Twitter on 18 May that it continues to advocate for a settlement based on the BBF-with-political-equality model.
The Council is unlikely to initiate drastic changes to the mission’s mandate and size. Council members will encourage the Secretary-General to continue working with the parties to find common ground for formal negotiations to commence.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CYPRUS
|Security Council Resolutions|
|27 January 2022S/RES/2618||This renewed the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another six months, until 31 July 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.|
|31 December 2021S/2021/1110||This was a report on UNFICYP.|
|31 December 2021S/2021/1109||This was the report of the Secretary-General on the UN’s good offices mission in Cyprus.|
|Security Council Letters|
|13 April 2022S/2022/317||This was a letter from the Republic of Cyprus to the UN containing, inter alia, allegations of the illegal use of closed ports and airports by Turkish naval and air forces.|