WORLD: Mr President, Cyprus is on the way to becoming a natural gas exporter. Deliveries are currently scheduled to begin in 2027. But the government wants to speed up the schedule. What would have to happen for that?
Nikos Anastasiades: That depends above all on the companies involved, who have to set up the infrastructure for this. But in the current energy crisis, Europe must build its economic future on cooperation with reliable partners who share our common values and interests. We have attracted well-known energy companies to prepare the use of our raw material reserves, such as Chevron, Shell, Eni, Total and Qatar Oil. You are already active in our Exclusive Economic Zone at Sea. In the future, natural gas is to be delivered to Egypt, for example, and liquefied there for onward transport by ship. From the Aphrodite field alone, five to ten billion cubic meters of gas could be produced per year over a period of ten to 15 years, starting in 2027. In this case, everything else depends on the licensees.
WORLD: Supposedly, companies could invest a lot more money to accelerate the start of exploitation. Would it help if there were long-term gas supply contracts? Could deliveries then start earlier?
Anastasiades: Yes. Higher investments and an accelerated development plan by the companies involved could allow for an earlier start of gas supplies from Cypriot production areas. The EU has already signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel and Egypt, according to which the European Union intends to promote gas supplies from these countries and also from all sources in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus. This, or a comparable mechanism for Cyprus, could encourage companies to set up the necessary supply structures more quickly. Up until the war in Ukraine, the price of gas was rather low and provided little incentive to set up new energy supply structures. Now the situation has changed radically. Today, Turkey's aggressive action in our exclusive maritime economic zone is an obstacle to the start of natural gas supplies. We have already made proposals to demarcate assisted areas or take the case to the International Court of Justice. But Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, violates international maritime law and conducts illegal test drilling off our coast.
WORLD: Turkey claims that it only defends the rights of Cypriots of Turkish origin in the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which was founded in the occupied part of the island a few years after the Turkish invasion in 1974.
Anastasiades: Above all, according to UN Security Council resolutions and international law, the so-called TRNC is an illegal entity that, with the exception of Turkey, is not recognized by the international community. Although the split is ongoing, we have already made arrangements to allow Turkish Cypriots to share in future profits from natural gas production. In the negotiations with the Turkish side, there were already approaches on this point and we agreed on a distribution mechanism. We have set up a fund by law to collect future profits outside the state budget. And I suggested setting up an escrow account to hold the future share of Turkish Cypriots. Turkish Cypriots can have access to it even before a final solution to the Cyprus problem, provided that we can agree on the demarcation of Cyprus and Turkey's Exclusive Economic Zones.
WORLD: The EU wants to significantly reduce its consumption of fossil fuels by 2030. Does it make any sense at all to focus on natural gas?
Anastasiades: Gas has an undeniable role as a bridging energy for the green transition. We also want to participate in the promotion of green hydrogen, together with Israel and Egypt. Saudi Arabia also wants to deliver green hydrogen, and the transport routes to Europe could go through Cyprus. I have already discussed this with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. His country wants to become the largest exporter of green hydrogen in the world.
WORLD: But Cyprus's conflict with Turkey continues. What can Germany do to contribute to a solution? Are the Germans too soft towards the Turks?
Anastasiades: Germany's special relationship with Turkey can be an opportunity. Berlin could convince Ankara of the need to restart negotiations on the basis of the relevant UN resolutions - with the aim of a bizonal, bicommunal federation. But certainly not with a two-state solution, as Ankara has been promoting recently. Germany can use its influence to prevent President Erdogan from further unilateral steps that will later make negotiations more difficult. The Turkish side has already started to develop the Varosha region economically, the status of which is clearly defined in the relevant Security Council resolutions. These unilateral actions have been condemned by the UN and the EU. If Turkey finally backs down, it can not only facilitate the EU accession process, but also the expansion of the customs union, which Ankara has been striving for for a long time.
WORLD: Couldn't Cyprus also make concessions? One idea is, for example, to pipe Cypriot gas through Turkey to Europe, which of course would mean fee income for the Turkish state.
Anastasiades: Provided that there is a solution to the Cyprus conflict in the way I have described, then Turkey will become a friendly country. Then you could also connect such a pipeline to the plants in Israel and Egypt. That could promote stability throughout the Middle East.
WORLD: Another central issue for Cyprus is migration. Your country has taken in so many migrants that they now make up six percent of its population. And the EU is not very helpful in solving this problem. The Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer recently declared that the EU migration policy had failed. Do you agree with him?
Anastasiades: It's a delicate subject. Everyone knows that we have to find a new regulation for jointly managing migration in the EU. We must agree on a new asylum and migration pact. Thankfully, in June, Germany helped facilitate a relocation of migrants from Cyprus through a voluntary solidarity mechanism. But there is still a lot to be done. We need a mandatory redistribution program to support the states that are on the front lines. In addition, rejected asylum seekers need to be able to return to safe third countries through bilateral agreements. Another big problem is that Turkey exploits refugees. More than 90 percent of the migrants in Cyprus come by plane from Istanbul to the occupied northern part of Cyprus and come to us from there. It's hundreds every day. That has to stop.
WORLD: You mentioned the solidarity mechanism. After that, 8,000 migrants should actually be redistributed to Germany, among other places – a small number anyway. In fact, only about a hundred were actually redistributed. Didn't the initiative fail?
Anastasiades: To be honest, this initiative could have done more. And Cyprus does not have the resources to deal with this level of migration on its own. In fact, a real demographic shift is underway.
WORLD: Your country has long had close economic ties with Russia. How badly has the current conflict since the beginning of the Ukraine war harmed you, such as the EU sanctions?
Anastasiades: Your image of Cyprus does not reflect reality. Since 2013 we have carried out comprehensive reforms. Today, Russian investments account for just 3.8 percent of foreign investments in Cyprus. We depend on Russian loans for only 0.8 percent. I believe this proves that we have gradually freed ourselves from economic dependence on Russia.
WORLD: You yourself were also accused of maintaining connections to Russia. Her law firm is said to have set up Russian shell companies and been involved in the laundering of Russian funds. You replied that you transferred your shares in the law firm to your daughters several years ago. But isn't that also a close connection to these shops?
Anastasiades: These unfounded accusations are based solely on political expediency. Yes, the firm still bears my name. But I gave up my shares when I was elected party leader in 1997 and haven't been involved since. I would also like to point out that since taking over the presidency of Cyprus I have done a lot to stop money laundering. We have taken measures that even went beyond the EU standard. Before these measures, there were 255,000 letterbox companies in Cyprus. My company was only very slightly involved in such deals. We have now banned letterbox companies and set up a register of beneficial owners. The international supervisory authorities such as the Greco Committee, Moneyval and Fintech have positively evaluated the measures to effectively combat corruption and money laundering. Today it is much more difficult for foreigners to open a bank account in Cyprus.
WORLD: But your family continued to benefit from the law firm.
Anastasiades: My two daughters own 50 percent of this law firm. But must a politician's offspring shut down their business just because their father was elected President? If there was any suspicion of government favoritism or illegal activity, I could understand the criticism. But that is not the case here.
WORLD: In Germany, some are demanding that the EU should take a more conciliatory stance towards Russia in order to enable an end to the Ukraine war. What do you think?
Anastasiades: Diplomacy must be given another chance at some point. But as long as Russia occupies Ukrainian territory and continues its aggression, including against civilians and civilian infrastructure, it is not the time for diplomacy. That can't be a basis for talks. We cannot ask Ukraine to accept the occupation of their country. We in Cyprus know this particularly well.