Cyprus to give access to its ports, airstrips to Russian military

Nicos Anastasiades [EU Council]

President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades has said he is in talks with the Russian government to let its military ships and planes use Cypriot ports and airstrips in case of humanitarian operations or in emergency situations. 

Anastasiades said this in an interview with the Russian agency TASS published yesterday (9 February). He added that the two sides were conducting “a dialogue to explore the additional possibilities that could be offered to Russia in case of humanitarian operations or emergency situations”.

The Cypriot president is expected to travel to Russia later this month where trade, investments and the renewal of a military cooperation deal is expected to be on the agenda of talks in the Kremlin.

The press has reported that a draft agreement, approved by the Cyprus government last month, grants the permission to Russian planes and ships to use Cypriot facilities. 

Not bases

Several media reported that Cyprus, a member of EU and of the eurozone, but not of NATO, is offering Russia military bases. This was vehemently rejected by the country’s foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides.

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Speaking at an event organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC), Kasoulides called “rubbish” press reports about Cyprus being ready to provide air and maritime bases to Russia.

“It is rubbish to talk about as I saw in publications, about ‘military bases’. The question of facilities we are talking about are facilities of purely humanitarian nature and not facilities of military nature. And they will not involve the Andreas Papandreou military airbase of Cyprus. 

“It’s about the evacuation of Russian citizens in case of a war in the Middle East, in the same way that Cyprus has a number of agreements with other countries for the same purpose,” Kasoulides said.

The minister explained that the present Cypriot agreement for military cooperation with Russia covered the procurement of spare parts and the maintenance of arms that have been purchased by Cyprus from Russia.

He said an agreement is needed to continue this cooperation.  He explained that this was an agreement that existed for years, that expired last December and needed renewal.

Kasoulides explained that Cyprus needed such agreement with Russia because an embargo prevents his country from acquiring arms except from France or Russia.

However, Greek and Turkish media report that the UK, which uses two military bases in Cyprus under the terms of the 1960 treaty of independence of which London is part, was nervous at the news of Nicosia’s offer to Moscow.

The UK High Commissioner (Ambassador) to Cyprus Damian Roberick Todd, is quoted as saying that the EU has a common stance on Russia with view to the recent developments in Ukraine, and that Nicosia had to abide by this position.

Anastasiades has reacted to these remarks, asking the UK envoy not to use “baseless” words.

“There is an old [defence] agreement, which should be renewed as is. At the same time, some additional services will be provided in the same way as we do with other countries, such as, for example, with France and Germany,” Anastasiades reportedly said, adding: “Cyprus and Russia have traditionally had good relations, and this is not subject to change.”

Asked to comment, Maja Kocijancic, Commission spokesperson for foreign affairs, said that at this stage, she would simply refer to the explanations given by the Cypriot authorities.  

On a visit to Cyprus on 2 February, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told Anastasiades, that the two countries could form a bridge between Europe and Russia, currently estranged over Ukraine.

>> Read: Tsipras says Greece and Cyprus could be ‘EU bridge to Russia’

Press reports brand Cyprus as “a favourite tax haven” for rich Russians. Russian-related business is thought to make up about 10% of the Cypriot economy.

Both Greece and Cyprus are Orthodox countries with traditions of siding together on many occasions. Greek media quoted Cypriot government officials saying that Nicosia would support Athens’ positions both at the Eurogroup meeting tomorrow (11 February) and at the EU summit the next day.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 despite repeated efforts under the auspices of the UN to bring the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to the negotiating table. 

Hopes for reunification were raised in 2002 when then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested a two-part federation with a rotating presidency. 

In an April 2004 referendum, the Greek Cypriots rejected - and the Turkish Cypriots approved - a UN-sponsored unity plan. The plan's failure disappointed EU officials, who had agreed to allow Cyprus to join the EU that year partly in the hope that doing so would encourage a solution. In May 2004, the Greek Cypriot-controlled Republic of Cyprus became a full member of the EU.

At their December 2004 summit, EU leaders agreed to open accession talks with Turkey on 3 October 2005. One of the conditions specified was for Ankara to extend a 1963 association agreement with the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community, to the Union's 10 new member states. This group included the Greek Cypriot state, which is not recognised by Turkey.

In July 2005, Turkey signed a protocol extending its customs union to the EU-10 states, but at the same time Ankara issued a declaration saying that its signature did not mean it had recognised the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey also refused to open its ports and airports to Cyprus, as it claims the EU has fallen short of having direct trade with the unrecognised northern part of the island.

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