Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Russia visit to boost ties, not mend bridges

President Nicos Anastasiades

By Elias Hazou

BILATERAL relations, the strengthening of bilateral ties, the Ukraine crisis and EU-Russia relations, as well as regional developments in the Middle East will be the chief items on the agenda of President Nicos Anastasiades during his official visit to Russia next week, according to an official statement.

Anastasiades will be in Russia from February 24 until February 27. During his stay, he will hold talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and Sergey Naryshkin, chairman of the State Duma.

Accompanying the president on his trip will be the foreign minister, the ministers of finance and energy, and the government spokesman.

A series of bilateral cooperation agreements is set to be signed by the nations’ two leaders in Moscow, in the sectors of trade, energy, tourism, education, science, commercial shipping, telecommunications, agriculture and stockbreeding.

Also travelling to Russia will be officials from the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency, who will sign an agreement with the Russian Investment Agency, and Demetra Kalogirou, head of the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission (CySEC) who will be concluding two agreements with the corresponding Russian authority.

Another possible item that Nicosia might raise concerns Putin’s declared ‘de-offshorisation’ policy – bringing back to Russia foreign-based companies with promises of tax amnesty – although the Cyprus Mail could not determine whether this would be on the agenda.

Anastasiades’ itinerary includes an address to the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, where he will speak on the Cyprus problem and the latest developments. The president will also meet the Russian press.

On February 26, Anastasiades travels to St. Petersburg to meet the governor there.

In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) this week, Anastasiades described his upcoming visit as highly important, as it would “deepen” relations with the Russian Federation.

“We had stated from the outset, that the strengthening of our relations with the United States and other countries would never… come at the expense of our traditional and historic ties with Russia,” the President told CNA.

Russia, and before that the Soviet Union, had always taken a principled stand on the Cyprus issue, he added.

“There are also the economic ties which have significantly benefited Cyprus, be it tourism or the services industry, or through the loan and the facilities they [Russia] gave us.

“There is also the defence sector, when after 1974 an arms embargo was imposed on the Republic of Cyprus… Russia was the only nation which responded to the Republic’s request for armaments in order to meet our most basic defence needs.”

During his Moscow trip, Anastasiades is expected to discuss the fallout on Cyprus as a result of EU sanctions on Russia.

Asked about this, Anastasiades told CNA that the island has taken a hit mainly in the areas of agriculture, tourism and to a lesser extent the services sector, but that the impact was manageable.

In recent weeks, media outlets – both here and in Russia – had made much about a supposed deal granting Russia use of an airbase on the island.

The persistent reports – which Nicosia initially did not discourage – eventually prompted foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides to clarify there was no question of Russian air or naval military bases on Cypriot soil, adding that Moscow had never made such a request.

What was being discussed, Kasoulides said, was the possibility of providing facilities to Russia in connection to evacuating Russian nationals in the Middle East in case of an emergency.

But this still left open the question of whether Nicosia itself made the airbase offer as a gesture to Moscow, and let its overtures leak to the media. Analysts suggested this was perhaps a Cyprus ploy designed to put pressure on its EU partners in regards to the bloc’s sanctions on Russia, which has forced to choose sides, as it were.

With some help from the government, Anastasiades’ trip has been much hyped over the past few months. In turn, the opposition here has ramped up its rhetoric, claiming that the government has allowed its relations with Russia to fall by the wayside and that this was a chance to ‘set things right’.

Rumblings of a planned visit to Moscow surfaced in October, when the President met Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Milan. The two leaders had sat next to each other for two hours during an official dinner for visiting heads of state and government.

Initially a trip was mooted for the end of 2014, but had to be postponed due to Anastasiades’ heart surgery in New York in early December and his weeks-long convalescence thereafter.

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