By Elias Hazou
A Russian navy exercise in waters east of the island next week and planned seismic surveys by Turkey are unrelated and purely coincidental, a military official has said.
Captain Constantinos Fitiris, commander of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC), confirmed news reports that Russian warships will be conducting drills east of Cyprus from October 20 to October 23.
The drills will be taking place inside the Nicosia Flight Information Region (FIR) in a reserved area stretching from off Cape Apostolos Andreas to the coast of Syria.
Fitiris said the Russians had in advance asked Cyprus for permission, which Cypriot authorities granted.
“This is a common occurrence, a similar request [to Cyprus] has been submitted before, given that Russia regularly carries out exercises which evidently are linked to the situation in Syria and to Russian interests.
“Our assessment is that they [the Russians] are making their presence felt in a region where they have long held interests and influence,” said Fitiris.
The Russian navy exercises, which include rocket test firings, will coincide with the start of surveys inside Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by the Turkish seismic vessel Barbaros. The seismic surveys are set to start on October 20 and run through December 30.
“The EEZ has nothing to do with firings in the air or at sea. The EEZ’s meaning pertains to subsea economic activities,” Fitiris told the Cyprus News Agency.
“The two issues are unconnected, there is no cause for panic,” he added.
The captain was commenting after a report in Phileleftheros on Thursday saying the Russian navy exercises and the Turkish seismic surveys would be taking place at the same time.
The swathe reserved for the seismic surveys do not overlap the area reserved by the Russian navy.
“What is significant is that the Russians obtained permission from us, which means full recognition of the Republic and its status across the whole of the Nicosia FIR, as well as cooperation with us on defence matters,” said Fitiris.
Any activities by foreign nations within the Nicosia FIR require the prior approval of Cyprus. The Nicosia FIR is interchangeable with Cyprus’ Search and Rescue Region, but covers an expanse far larger than the EEZ.
Turkey recently issued a marine advisory for seismic surveys in international waters but also inside Cyprus’ FIR and as well as its EEZ without having asked Cypriot authorities for permission. Ankara does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus.
The sea area and airspace reserved for the Russian drill covers some 800 square miles. Fitiris said that commercial aircraft would need to be diverted, but that this was expected to affect few airplanes since traffic in the region has already dropped considerably due to the ongoing situation in Syria.
According to the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency, the drill will feature ships from Russia’s Black Sea fleet and from the Northern Sea fleet, including anti-submarine vessels and landing craft.
A joint Cyprus-Israel search and rescue exercise in Cyprus’ FIR is also scheduled for next week.