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The UK’s Position in the Eastern Mediterranean: Relations with the GASC

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When the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus (GASC) declared its independence, the UK’s Akrotiri and Dhekelia Military Base Zones in the GASC continued to remain in the country with a special agreement. The continued existence of the base regions, which are considered as Britain’s overseas territory, caused discomfort from time to time by the GASC administrators, but the bases continued to exist in 2023. According to the agreement between the GASC and the UK, this region was arranged in such a way that it would not be open to settlement except for agricultural lands for the Greek Cypriot people, but this situation changed in 2022. Lastly, the President of the GASC, Nicos Anastasiades, who will leave office in February 2023, visited King Charles of the UK in the last days of January, which resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding on civilian settlements and activities in the UK’s base areas.

The location of the island of Cyprus is a unique strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean. Many countries with energy, political and military interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and North America aspire to be an effective actor here, regardless of the geographical distance or proximity to the Eastern Mediterranean. It is also due to this desire that the UK, which has dominated the island of Cyprus for many years, aims to maintain the existence of the base region when the GASC declares its independence.

However, the continued British presence in this region has been perceived as a problem by the GASC governments from time to time. For example, former President of the GASC Dimitris Christofias, who took office in 2008, called the British presence on the island a “colonial stain” and promised to abolish the bases.[1] However, this was not possible and in the 2010s, the UK actively used this base in its military activities in the Middle East.

In the 2020s, it is seen that the GASC has largely come under the influence of the United States of America (USA). One of the main reasons for this was the gradual lifting of the arms embargo imposed on the GASC by the US. Following this development, a bilateral defense cooperation agreement was signed between the GASC and the US. In addition to the bilateral relations between the GASC and the US, it is known that the US has intensively organized exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean with Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, France, Egypt and Israel, including the GASCThese countries are not only militarily but also politically and economically influential in the region. Moreover, Israel has been a country that supported the military power of the GASC through arms trade during the American embargo against the GASC.[2]

For instance, in early 2022, the US announced that it would not support the EastMed Project, which aims to transport natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe. The EastMed Pipeline Project was undoubtedly a project of great geostrategic and geoeconomic importance for Israel, the GASC as well as Greece. However, the very high cost of the project and the lack of certainty that the profits to be made once the project was completed would cover the costs were among the reasons for the US withdrawal. As such, Italy and France wanted to step into the economic vacuum left by the US. Of course, it is not possible to compare the economic funding that these two countries will provide with that of the US, but what encouraged the Rome-France duo more is the discovery of natural gas in different wells offshore the GASC by these Italian and French energy companies. Following the new discoveries, the two countries announced that they would continue with the EastMed Pipeline Project, but despite a considerable amount of time having passed since this announcement, there has been no progress on the part of Italy and Greece on this issue.

Looking at the GASC and the southern part of the Eastern Mediterranean in general, it is seen that Italy and France are economically active, while Israel and the US are militarily active. Of course, when talking about the Eastern Mediterranean, it is inevitable to make a connection with the Middle East. For, a power that is active in the Eastern Mediterranean is also active in the Middle East.

In this equation, the UK, which previously had plans to dominate in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, has been missing in the recent period. Therefore, it can be said that the UK has shown this deficit by trying to improve its relations with the GASC. This is evidenced by the recent increase in diplomatic visits. Prior to the aforementioned visit of Anastasiades, Princess Anne, Princess of England, sister of King Charles III, visited the British peacekeeping forces in the GASC on January 11, 2023 and met with President Anastasiades. What is noteworthy here is that the GASC conducts its relations with the UK through the Royal Family.

As a result, the UK has always been present in strategic regions where the US and other great powers are present. These regions include the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and, more recently, the Black Sea. In this equation, the Eastern Mediterranean has been the missing region for the UK. However, it has recently been observed that the contacts between the UK and the GASC have increased at the level of the royal family and the people of the GASC have been granted more rights on an issue that is important for both countries, such as base areas.


[1] Helena Smith, “Cyprus elects its first communist President”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/feb/25/cyprus.greece, (Date of Accession: 24.01.2023).

Sevinç İrem BALCI
Sevinç İrem BALCI
Sevinç İrem Balcı, Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümü mezunudur. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Balcı, aynı zamanda Rusça ve Yunanca öğrenmektedir. Başlıca çalışma alanları Balkanlar ve Avrupa'dır.