By Alper Ali Riza
IN THE clash between democracy and oligarchy Cyprus has taken centre stage as Europe’s weakest link and Russia’s paradise island. Europe is democratic and Russia is still trying to come to terms with capitalism after the collapse of communism.
The Russians were a long time coming but they are here now. Ironically, they came after the collapse of the Soviet Union rather than via a communist takeover of Cyprus through Akel – the loyal wholly owned subsidiary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Communism gave way to oligarchy and orthodoxy and the Russians are now as welcome in Cyprus as they feel at home here.
Cyprus is a member of the European Union although parts of it are British sovereign territory and north Cyprus has yet to be assimilated into the EU. She joined in 2004 as one unit promising to sort the status of the Turkish Cypriot community but has yet to do so and probably never will. The hope is that with the ever-closer union this will be achieved by osmosis, provided nothing untoward happens in the meantime.
Russian oligarchs with enormous wealth and incontinent spending habits have made Cyprus their home and their gateway to Europe. Some have acquired European Union Citizenship and some use Cyprus for refining their wealth. It would be surly to begrudge them their wealth and their new citizenship or those who benefit from them. So long as they do not kill the goose that lays the golden egg ‘let a thousand flowers bloom.’
There is nothing wrong with Russians becoming European citizens. In music, art, literature and science they have an affinity with European culture comparable to the French and the Germans and, dare I say it, the British. Even using Cyprus to refine their wealth is tolerable provided it is done in accordance with general practice regarded as lawful in other European capitals.
London and Switzerland have been refining Russian wealth on and off since the time of the Tsars and there is no reason why Limassol should not join in the fun provided the Cypriots are super vigilant that the legal system they inherited from the British is not corrupted by a culture that is very different from the traditions of the common law of England. In Abramovich versus Berezovsky, even two Russian oligarchs fought out their differences in the High Court of England because they acknowledged it as a forum beyond reproach. The forlorn hope is that all the forums of justice and power in Cyprus remain beyond reproach.
There is of course, a clash of political culture between democracy and oligarchy going back to ancient Athens. The battleground has moved further east to Cyprus nowadays for the simple reason that this is where everyone has now gathered – like in an Agatha Christie murder mystery in which everyone gathers around, normally at a country house in deepest Sussex, where the culprit is exposed by the redoubtable Hercule Poirot. In Cyprus all roads lead to Limassol where the Russians live, the Cypriots thrive and the Europeans look on befuddled and bemused.
Britain had been instrumental in keeping the Russians out of the Mediterranean since time immemorial. She buttressed the Ottoman Empire for more than a hundred years, way past its sell-by date, to keep Russia at bay, and acquired Cyprus in the process. The British presence in Cyprus outlived colonial times after independence in 1960. She retained sovereign military bases as a condition of independence, but despite noises from the odd maverick politician, the bases have never been politicised. In the past they provided a safe haven when the Cyprus problem took a violent turn and were even used to spirit President Makarios to safety in 1974.
It is important to remember when discussing the Cyprus problem and the question of guarantees that the treaty of guarantee does not only purport to guarantee the independence of Cyprus. Importantly it also guarantees British sovereignty and use of her two bases at Akrotiri and Dhekelia and that recent talk about a broader international conference to include Russia is anathema to Britain and NATO.
There was no more than a hint from the Greek foreign minister in New York recently that Britain scuppered a non-paper at Crans-Montana and that this may have been owing to concerns that the zero guarantees and zero troops policy also extended to guarantees of the sovereignty of the British bases and the presence of British troops – which would be absurd given the whole point of the bases is that they are military and nothing else.
Tassos Papadopoulos once told a British High Commissioner that the Greek Cypriots would never allow a Gibraltar in Cyprus – which nonplussed the poor man, given that the British are treaty-bound not to populate their sovereign territories on the island and only deploy troops and military assets there.
All this is proof-positive that the zero guarantees and zero troops slogan that put paid to the talks at Crans-Montana, came from the top of the Greek foreign minister’s head rather than as a result of properly thought through policy deliberation. The man’s a charlatan, as the Cypriots discovered the other day when in an amazing volte-face he waxed eloquent in praise of President Erdogan.
If the Turks were being asked to accept zero guarantees and zero troops but not the British it was inept, and if both were being asked to accept zero troops and zero guarantees it was not serious. In either event, it was a crazy negotiating gambit to challenge treaty provisions affecting two major NATO powers in a difficult part of the world. At one time, Anastasiades was thought of as Glafcos Clerides’ protege for the wisdom of his political judgment. Poor old Clerides must be spinning in his grave!
The final nail in the coffin of the zero guarantees and zero troops policy, however, is that it necessarily targets the Greek National Guard as well. As a defence dogma, it really is for the birds! It is wholly misconceived and utterly irresponsible to offer to disband the National Guard as part of a zero guarantees arrangement when Turkey is just 30 miles away and can redeploy back at any time if things take a turn for the worst. The Greek Cypriot opposition have not made much of this aspect of the zero troops policy because they are too attracted by its slogan value and too anxious to bask in the reflected glory of the Greek foreign minister.
The failure of the Greek foreign minister to appreciate that zero troops would lead to zero security reminded me of Achilles and his heels. When Achilles mother Thetis dipped him into the river Styx to make him immortal she unwittingly also made him vulnerable at the heels from where she held him. After he dispatched Hector at the Gates of Troy an arrow felled him fatally at the heel as the soothsayers foretold, and Achilles Heel became the metaphor of choice for unwittingly creating a fatally weak point while striving to be invincible.
Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part time judge