By Stefanos Evripidou
THE COUNCIL of Ministers has approved a draft proposal by the Defence Ministry to offer certain facilities to the Russian air force at the Andreas Papandreou military airbase in Paphos.
According to a report in Politis, a request for use of the airbase was raised last year during the separate visits of Defence Minister Fotis Fotiou and Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides to Moscow.
The newpaper reported that during its latest meeting, the cabinet approved a proposal by the defence ministry, reached in agreement with the foreign ministry, to offer certain services to the Russian air force at the Paphos military air base.
These include allowing the landing and stationing of military aircraft for humanitarian reasons and in emergency situations.
A defence ministry source refused to enter into details but told the Cyprus Mail that the proposed agreement is not something substantial or different to what is already being offered to Russia in terms of facilities at the airbase from time to time.
The agreement, if and when it is signed between the two countries, will simply put the situation on a more ‘official’ footing.
Another source told the Cyprus Mail that the matter effectively remains under negotiation as no agreement has been reached yet with Russia.
However, Cyprus’ proposal is to offer Russia – a key ally in the UN Security Council – the provision of facilities at the air base on an “ad hoc basis”, as is already done with many countries.
The source highlighted there was a big difference between allowing military aircraft to land for refueling or other technical reasons, for example, when requested, and keeping a permanent Russian base at the airport, as some press reports have previously suggested.
And it was those reports that raised the attention of Cyprus’ allies to the west, who voiced concern at the prospect of such a move.
The agreement approved by the cabinet is unlikely to raise eyebrows, however, as providing facilities on an ad hoc basis is something that is offered to many countries and partners.
Despite the sizeable British air base on the island, Cyprus has offered its services to a number of military aircraft at various points during various crises in the region, including from Russia, the US, Italy and France.
In an effort to highlight its strategic use as a credible ally, Cyprus has also provided port facilities to numerous navy vessels, from a variety of countries, including the US, Russia, Denmark, Germany, Norway and most recently China.