Local media reports on Tuesday continued to suggest that Cyprus may grant Russia use of an airbase on the island as part of an updated defence agreement expected to be signed during President Nicos Anastasiades’ visit to Moscow later this month.
The reports – which apparently pointed to mixed signals from the government – had earlier prompted foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides to attempt to clear up the matter.
On Monday the chief diplomat said there was no question of Russian air or naval military bases on Cypriot soil, adding that Moscow had never made such a request.
Kasoulides was clarifying Anastasiades’ earlier comments to Russia’s state-owned TASS agency. In the interview, the President spoke of a renewal of a military cooperation agreement with Russia consisting of maintenance of military equipment sold to Cyprus years ago, as well as the purchase of spare parts in line with existing contracts.
Regarding the provision of facilities to Russia, Kasoulides said, these would be of “a purely non-military nature,” relating to humanitarian operations such as the evacuation of Russian civilians from the Middle East.
But also on Monday, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that the agreement to be signed in Moscow would allow the Russian air force to deploy from an airbase in Paphos, some 40km from the RAF airbase in Akrotiri.
However RIA Novosti did say that the bilateral defence pact did not foresee creating a Russian military base here.
“The issue of creating a Russian military base is not being discussed. We’re talking about providing the possibility of using an airbase in Paphos that other countries such as Germany and France use,” an Athens-based diplomatic source told the news agency.
The Paphos base is used for refuelling, evacuation operations and technical service. Russia currently refuels its military ships in the port of Limassol and such cooperation is planned to be expanded, the same source said.
The issue of evacuations via Cyprus came up last year when Russia saw that its naval base in Tartus, Syria could fall into rebel hands
Publicly, the question of access to the Paphos airbase and Limassol port has been raised only by Russian ambassador in Nicosia Stanislav Osadchiy who has often expressed Moscow’s intention to reach a potential agreement with Cyprus for a military base on the island.
Nicosia is meantime keen to appease concerns that Cyprus, somewhat dependent on Russian investments and tourism, would be willing to break ranks with other EU partners and avoid imposing harsher sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s government.
Last weekend British High Commissioner to Cyprus Damian Roderick Todd was quoted by Kathimerini as saying that Cyprus’ stance toward Russia must fall in line with that of the European Union.
Responding, Anastasiades said Cyprus is a sovereign state that makes its own decisions, adding that Nicosia has never interfered in the British government’s foreign policy.
The Citizens Alliance – which accuses the government of having let its relations with Russia fall by the wayside – praised the President’s response to the British High Commissioner.
Political parties meanwhile have been pressing the President to make the most out of his Moscow trip by boosting ties with Russia.
EDEK’s no.2 Marinos Sizopoulos said on Monday that prospects exist for providing facilities to Russia in the Middle Eastern theatre, but added that these facilities must be “within reason” so as not to jeopardise Cyprus’ geostrategic interests.
For his part, DISY leader Averof Neofytou struck a note of caution, saying Cyprus is a member of the EU but must also maintain good relations with all parties, including the United States, Russia and China.
“We cannot afford to turn Cyprus into a satellite of either the Americans, the Russians or anyone else,” he said.