By Nathan Morley
IT’S BEEN a funny old week. As Britain finally loosens its grip on the sovereign bases – the Russian military have been given the green light to use the Limassol port and the airbase in Paphos.
A complete reshuffling of the entire deck of geopolitical cards is in motion, prompting some commentators to scream that Cyprus is falling into a Russian orbit, whilst others celebrate what they see as the beginning of Britain’s long march home.
Whichever way you look at it – recent events mark a monumental crossroads in Cyprus’ relationship with two major powers.
Understandably pundits agreed that President Anastasiades popularity soared after Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides hammered out a surprise agreement lifting restrictions on commercial and industrial development in non-military areas within the British Bases.
Kasoulides knows it’s the time for delicate diplomatic bargaining, as the case for Britain keeping its expensive military bastions recedes.
The MoD is already shrinking its presence on the island, whilst they are also packing up from Germany.
Despite a 2011 white paper which outlined the UK’s enduring commitment to the SBA’s in Cyprus, the fact is that with new technologies and a dramatically reduced budget, Akrotiri is no longer viable as springboard for dealing with Middle East trouble spots as it was during the Suez and Iraq conflicts.
The bases are expensive and largely deserted remnants of the Cold War-era.
There was a time when thousands of people lived and worked at Dhekelia – it was seldom quiet.
The only action there nowadays is mainly provided by regulars cramming into Lambros Fish and Chip bar, or the old boys have a jolly on the golf course.
The sun is setting on the UK forces in Cyprus and it’s probable that more ‘friendly dialogue’ concerning their future will follow soon.
It is always hard to admit when the government plays a blinder, so it came as no surprise to some folks stoking the flames of dissent with rantfests about a new Gibraltar-like colony.
Meanwhile, the scaremongers and doomsayers inform us that any void which may be eventually left by the British will be filled by the Great Russian bear.
Nobody doubts that Russia is a good friend and strong ally of Cyprus, so why the information quotient on the new military agreement is so low remains a complete mystery – the lack of information also spurs on those that predict a full blown Russian presence is in the offing.
Despite having a rather leak-prone government, it is astonishing that any comment on this issue has skilfully avoided conveying anything substantive.
All we know is that an “unnamed defence ministry source” gave the rather vague assertion that the 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.
Why was it not debated by parliament? Will the offer of “certain facilities” to the Russian air force just be restricted to humanitarian and emergency situations? Will the specifics of this agreement be made public?
In making hard concessions in the interest of good relations, Cyprus had little elbow room at the bargaining table.
Moscow holds all the cards. Cyprus is in an exposed position, especially after Russian depositors that lost in the March bailout – in addition to Moscow’s very generous €2.5bn loan to Nicosia.
It is no secret that Moscow has long-coveted a military foothold here, as the future of their naval port in Syria looks bleak. Their strategic ambitions are also well known.
Last year President Vladimir Putin described the Mediterranean as a “strategic region” in which Russia has its own interests. Moscow is also seeking the restoration of a permanent presence their fleet in the region, although the actual location of their base is yet to be announced…I’m not taking bets yet where it may be.
I will take bets that next year Cyprus continues to maintain its regular place in the top ten of most militarised nations on earth, along with Syria, Israel and Bahrain.
PSSS….WANT AN EU PASSPORT?
LAST WEEK the Maltese government rebuffed European lawmakers’ call to halt a plan to sell their passports to foreigners, which would automatically grant them access to the European Union.
Brussels can do nothing about this outrageous Maltese scheme, which offers passports at the bargain basement price of €650,000.
Nobody is under any illusion that Malta is simply flogging EU residency – the right to live, work or set up business in any of the 28 member states.
Their controversial initiative is simple – once vetted and approved, investors stump up the money in exchange for a passport. The Maltese government claims the scheme will raise €30 million this year alone – whilst boosting their economy and easing the deficit.
It comes as no surprise that the island has taken a pounding in the international press, with some commentators describing the scheme as dodgy and desperate.
The kerfuffle began when it emerged that there are no residency requirements, language or work skills needed. In fact, successful applicants don’t even have to pay more than a fleeting visit to Valetta to sign on the dotted line.
An EU passport is a valuable document. It allows the owner visa-free entry to 163 countries, Schengen borderless travel, a United States visa waiver and numerous benefits including the right to live and work in any EU member state.
David Hanson is the shadow immigration minister with Britain’s opposition Labour party told me the scheme was basically a backdoor pass to Europe.
Even though the European Union cannot interfere with this scheme, Manfred Weber, vice-chairman of the European People’s party said there was a growing sense of frustration about the whole sham.
If a price had to be put on EU nationality – Malta is certainly the cheapest, even the local ‘citizenship by investment’ scheme has a passport price tag of €2.5 million.
Elizabeth Taylor has been mentioned many times over the past week as Varosha’s most famous visitor. Don’t forget that Paul Newman was no stranger to Cyprus. He spent several months living and working on the island in 1960 during the production of the epic Hollywood movie Exodus.
Newman, along with Eva Marie Saint, Ralph Richardson and Peter Lawford was primarily based in the old town of Famagusta during the film’s production, which stretched from April till August.
And just for fun…here is a picture of Benny and Frida from Abba on the Varosha beach in 1970! Do you have any vintage stars in Cyprus photos? Share them with us. [email protected]