By Stefanos Evripidou
CYPRUS APPEARS to be stuck between a rock and a hard place over a Russian request for use of its Andreas Papandreou military airbase in Paphos, it emerged on Saturday.
Local daily Simerini reported on Saturday that the military airbase southwest of the island has become a bone of contention between Russia and the US, causing headaches for the government.
According to the paper, the Russian government wants to rent permanent space at the airbase for military purposes, as opposed to adopting the practice of other ‘friendly’ states who from time to time request use of facilities, approval of which remains at the Cyprus government’s discretion.
The US is reportedly not happy with the Russian request and would see a positive response from Nicosia in a negative light.
The government, said Simerini, remains stuck in the middle of the dispute between the two permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), fearful of upsetting relations with Russia (Cyprus’ main ally in the UNSC) or the US or both.
According to the paper’s sources, consultations with the Russian government to find a solution that would satisfy both sides is ongoing, but has yet to yield results.
Asked to comment on Saturday, Defence Minister Fotis Fotiou all but confirmed the report, saying he did not want to comment directly on such a serious and sensitive issue related to Cyprus’ foreign policy.
The ministries of defence and foreign affairs will cooperate responsibly and take the “right” decision, “always taking into account the country’s national interests”, he said.
Fotiou highlighted the importance of maintaining the growing geostrategic and geopolitical importance of Cyprus which can play a stabilising role in the region.
Asked whether the US has “reprimanded” the government for the facilitations offered to Russia, Fotiou said: “No one has pressed us and what matters is through a proper consultation with friendly countries to take the right decisions.”
He noted that “Russia remains a long-standing supporter of our positions on the national issue” while Cyprus also has friendly relations with the US and other neighbouring countries in the region.
“It is clearly a matter of the Cypriot government taking a decision and such decisions are not taken under any pressure from anyone,” he said.