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Our View: Military base dispute means we might finally have to choose between East and West

THE GOVERNMENT has been put in an unenviable position by Russia’s reported request for land that would be used for military purposes. A press report claimed that the Russian government had asked to rent space, on a long-term basis, at the Paphos airbase. 

The report has not been denied by defence minister Fotis Fotiou who declined to comment directly on what he felt was very sensitive issue. He did say however that defence and foreign ministries, after consultations, would take a responsible decision, “always taking into account the country’s national interests”. Fotiou also repeated his desire to maintain the growing geostrategic and geopolitical importance of Cyprus which could play a stabilising role in the region.

How a tiny island like Cyprus could play a stabilising role in the region, Fotiou has never explained nor does he seem to have considered the negative aspect of growing geostrategic importance. It is because of this importance that the government now has to deal with the Russian request to which there is no easy answer. There is little doubt that the US would not approve of such an arrangement, which, in all likelihood, it would try to block. But how would the Russian government react to a rejection by Cyprus?

Our political leadership always considered Russia a dependable ally, because of the support Moscow offered Cyprus at the UN Security Council over the years; and now there are the business ties also to consider, plus the small matter of the €2.5 loan that the Christofias government ill-advisedly secured in 2011. Can we afford to snub our supposedly dependable ally?

But if we do not, we would have to snub the US and NATO, which would be vehemently opposed to Russia having a military base on the island. The Anastasiades government has never hidden its pro-West orientation, making clear its intention to apply for membership in the Partnership for Peace, for which the backing of the US would be necessary. Then there is EU. Would the Union consent to one of its member-states offering a military base to Russia?

Under the circumstances, it is very difficult to take at face value Fotiou’s assertion that this was “clearly a matter of the Cypriot government taking a decision and such decisions are not taken under any pressure from anyone.” Of course there would be pressure and this would eventually determine the government’s decision.

One thing is clear – there is no formula for keeping both Russia and the US happy. The government will have to make a choice between West and East once and for all. It is about time.

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