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There Is No Difference between Donetsk and Northern Cyprus

Cyprus
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland briefs reporters during a Department Press Briefing, from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2022. [State Department Photo by Freddie Everett]

Cyprus Gaffe Highlights Deeper Policy Flaw: Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland did not distinguish herself when, at a press conference in Cyprus during a tour through Europe, she spoke about a forthcoming meeting with Ersin Tatar, the leader of the Turkish-occupied northern portion of the country. “I’m going to go up to the north and spend a little time with President Tatar,” she said before someone in the audience queried her legitimization of the occupation by calling Tatar “president.” “I guess it was a mistake,” she said after confirming with her aides off-podium.

Put aside the projection to Cypriots that she visited without knowing the situation; those aware of the issues arising from an almost 50-year occupation need not clumsily page through notes.

The real problem is that the State Department believes it appropriate to speak in any way to Tatar. Tatar is a puppet of Turkey, no different than Philippe Pétain in Vichy France or Vidkun Quisling in World War II-era Norway were puppets of Germany. Tatar is an illegitimate ruler, empowered not by Cypriots, but by Turkish settlers.  As such, he is the figurehead of the cultural genocide that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan conducts on the island as he tries to radicalize Cyprus’ traditionally moderate Muslim minority. If Turkey and its proxies really sought a diplomatic solution to the island’s partition, there would have been a resolution decades ago. The reality is northern Cyprus engages in diplomacy insincerely, as a tactic to delay resolution while they alter demography.

A broader problem, however, is that the State Department remains blind to such tactics. Rogue regimes commonly use proxies in order to advance their policy goals while avoiding accountability for their actions. To talk to Tatar replicates the same mistake which Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and both the Trump and Biden administrations made when negotiating with the Taliban and treating them as functionally different than Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency which directed, funded, and controlled them. It would also be no different than talking to Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, and believing him to be independent of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as some European diplomats and American progressives do. Likewise, it would be as illogical as treating Denis Pushilin, the leader of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” as anything more than a Kremlin placeholder.

If President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken truly want to revive American diplomacy, it is not additional money that the State Department needs but an end to pro forma stupidity. If the United States is to remain a superpower, it should not distract itself with proxies of hostile powers, but should hold their controllers accountable.

A rule-of-thumb should be if any politician cannot make an agreement without the approval of a regime in a foreign capital, then he is not worth engaging. Diplomacy with proxies has a high cost both by enabling aggressors to distract and delay and by legitimizing occupiers.  Certainly, everyone in the State Department agrees that direct talks with leaders in Donetsk would not only be pointless, but they would actually do real harm by bestowing legitimacy on an illegitimate regime.

There is no difference between Donetsk and northern Cyprus. The United States should sanction northern Cypriot Quislings just as they do Ukrainian ones, not legitimize them. If the United States wants peace in Cyprus, it must understand northern Cyprus is a distraction.

The path to peace lies with maximum pressure on Ankara until the return of all Turkish settlers to Turkey proper and the dismantlement of any vestige of Europe’s longest occupation.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, co-author, and co-editor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Michaelin Anasini Siken

    April 13, 2022 at 10:34 am

    Mikeyyyyyy again spewing out a load of bullshit huh?

    U getting tilted since u losing all ur puppets left and right in the world huh.

    It’s a new world order americanos deal with it.

  2. John Hustler

    April 13, 2022 at 1:31 pm

    I think the reality of the situation is to start doing an audit on exactly how much these lobby groups are funding Mr Rubin here. Clearly he is a foreign agent. Stop wasting our tax money.

  3. repulsewarrior

    April 13, 2022 at 4:12 pm

    …interesting. The Problem, as it is in Cyprus, indeed festers now in the Ukraine; like Cypriots who are ignored by those “Greek”
    and “Turkish”, who are Ukrainian are ignored, identified as “Ukrainians”, as though all Russians are “Russians”.

    …”Russians” and “Ukrainians”, like “Greeks” and “Turks”, revolve around their mythic realities and enmities. Russians, Ukrainians, Greeks, and Turks, not “Them”, suffer from such dogma’s hateful thinking and lies, over “their” lives, silenced.

  4. Alex

    April 13, 2022 at 9:59 pm

    There is still a difference: the Donets and the people of Donetsk will forever remain in Russia, and Russia does not need Northern Cyprus. He does not need to be freed from the Bandera Nazis.

  5. Antonis Xanthakis

    April 14, 2022 at 1:20 am

    Exactly. A more apt analogy, though, would be Mrs. Nuland planning to visit the “governor” of Crimea

  6. Leon

    April 14, 2022 at 1:51 am

    Thank you Mr. Rubin for telling the truth one more time on Cyprus when others try to distort it or hide it because it doesn’t suit them!

  7. Anastasis kaffa

    April 14, 2022 at 8:36 am

    Never a truer word spoken…Tatar is a puppet of Turkey and its the illegal Turkish settlers (a war crime under Geneva convention) who keep him in power…Northern Cyprus should be heavily embargoed as should Turkey..NOT rewarded with State visits by Nuland…

  8. Paul

    April 14, 2022 at 7:52 pm

    Thank you Mr. Rubin, for calling out the glaring hypocrisy of the US State Department, as they once again they reward bad behavior of a so-called “ally” who has long worked against US interests. Amazing how the Ukranian War seems to have suddenly absolved Erdogan of any wrongdoing and has elevated Turkey to the status of “peacemaker” when it invaded and currently occupies a third of the Republic Cyprus and the north of Syria by force. And Zelensky wants Turkey to be a “guarantor” of his country?? Please keep calling out our State Dept’s BS obsession with Turkey; people are reading!!

  9. Jonjoli

    April 21, 2022 at 8:30 am

    If we want peace in Cyprus? How many people died because of war in Cyprus for the last 40 years? Please tell me how many? I can do it for you – zero. Cyprus is already peaceful.

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