SECURITY: Cyprus may be about to allow Russia military basing facilities
Chatter in Cyprus that there has been a significant uptick in bilateral diplomatic intercourse between that country and Russia over the last couple of months. The Russians are looking for use of port facilities at Limassol and access to airbase facilities at Paphos. Signs are that they may well get it.
This may be in reaction to Russia’s perception of the longevity of the Assad regime in Syria – the Russian navy had maintained a small support base at Tartus but press reports in June said that it had withdrawn all its personnel – this has been denied. IF the base has been closed, or mothballed, it is likely that the action was for simple personnel security reasons. Russia has been slowly withdrawing many of the estimated 30,000 Russians who had been working in Syria.
Vlad the Putin announced in early June that the Mediterranean is an area of strategic interest to Russia and the Russian Navy will maintain a fleet there. To do so, it will need to service that fleet. Currently a 16 vessel task-force is deployed in the region. The Cypriot press has been talking about Russia being keen to secure basing facilities in the region. Even if the Assad regime survives, Russia will likely want to secure alternative facilities just in case things change again.
The Cypriot Defence Minister, Fotis Fotiou, confirmed that Moscow has requested the use of sea and air facilities on Cyprus and that this request is being considered. Limassol has been used for refueling and supply purposes for over a year now. Last week alone, three Russian warships visited Limassol.
The recent melt-down of Cypriot banks – and the consequent losses incurred by Russian depositors – has resulted a perfect situation for the Russians to seek ‘favours’ from the Cypriots. Cyprus has a €2.5bn loan from the Russians which it has to cover or extend – obviously it denies any connection between Russia’s request. But equally obviously it needs to create some liquidity and it has something the Russians want. Hey!, needs must.
Fotiou said, “I want to make clear that there is no discussion about a permanent base in Cyprus for Russia, and to make it clear, I repeat, no ‘exchange’ principle’ “. Clearly, any base – permanent or not – will cause concerns to Cyprus’ EU partners and will almost certainly cause palpitations in NATO – the island’s President recently suggested closer ties with NATO.Clearly bolstering links with Russia are somewhat incompatible with this?
Some believe that Cyprus has already allowed itself to be used as a transit point for arms heading to Syria for the Assad regime. At least one shipment of Russian arms is known to have transited through Limassol en-route to Syria and in contravention of an EU arms embargo.
On Monday, Cyprus’ Foreign Minister, Ioannis Kasoulides, told Russian radio that the two nations would discuss specific details regarding Russia’s requests for facilities, adding that military co-operation agreements could be signed in coming months. The Russian Defence Minister is due to visit the island soon. Putin said in June that he would announce a permanent base for its forces in the Mediterranean soon.
So there you go, ‘twixt the devil and the deep blue sea’. A diplomatic tightrope is being walked. Cyprus’ EU partners will most definitely be discomfited by closer relations with Russia. But that loan has to be repaid or renegotiated. Heads or tails?
Careful. They are politicians and their lips are moving.
Mind your eye….