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Saturday, 24 January 2015

Russian Military Base in Cyprus?

Stanislav Osadchiy, the Russian Ambassador to Cyprus, has recently expressed his interest in a Russian military base in Cyprus. This news comes as Nicos Anastasiades, the President of Cyprus, announced that the Turkish withdrawal from the Exclusive Economic Zone would not be enough to allow the unification negotiations to continue. The announcement also comes as Nicos Anastasiades plans to visit Moscow in just a month's time.

Answering questions from journalists, Osadchiy confirmed that Russia had an interest in an agreement providing military facilitation in Cyprus. He added that Moscow's contacts with the Cypriot Foreign Ministry at the moment were mostly concerning the preparation of bilateral agreements to be signed during Anastasiades' visit to the Russian capital. Osadchiy also said the he is closely following developments concerning the Cyprus unification problem and the island's natural gas resources. He also revealed that he has discussed the Turkish incursion with the Cypriot Foreign Minister, Ioannis Kasoulides, and Russia's will is to break the deadlock from all sides. Osadchiy also said that "we are doing everything to improve the already good relations between the two countries."

But how would a Russian military base fit in on an island which also has two British military bases?

Well, Britain and Russia are hardly close allies. Whether they would agree to sharing Cyprus' military potential between them is an interesting question. Akrotiri and Dhekelia have been an integral part of Cyprus since 1960, and the enterprise was supported by Turkey and Greece and both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities. Would the Turkish Cypriots welcome a Russian base in the same way they welcomed a British base? The British are seen as impartial - they used to rule the entire island, but they don't have a local interest. They are fundamentally detached from Cyprus geographically, unlike Russia.

The British use RAF Akrotiri to house the United States' Operation Olive Harvest - two U2 spy planes that are officially used to observe the Israeli-Egyptian cease fire. This begs the question of whether or not Russia would use their military base for purposes that were not particularly moral, such as the US rendition flights that landed at Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory. And some people no doubt have concerns that a similar Russian base might lead to similar things happening. And if Russia ends up in opposition to Britain again, what would that make Cyprus? A warzone?

Too many questions remain unanswered as to the conditions of the base. I doubt it would advance the unification process, that's for sure. It could even divide the two regions further, if the Turkish Cypriots oppose the development but the Russians go ahead anyway. And who knows what the UK's reaction would be? We might have to wait until Anastasiades' visit to Moscow is concluded before we have answers to some of these questions.