By Jean Christou
Britain said on Tuesday during a debate in the House of Lords on “the proposal to establish a Russian military base on Cyprus” it remained in regular discussions with Cyprus on security and defence matters.
A question was tabled by Lord Sharkey, following the fuss in the UK last month when Cyprus formalised in writing an existing deal with Russia for its navy vessels to dock at Cypriot ports. The agreement and a number of others including the restructuring of a €2.5 billion loan from Russia were signed during President Nicos Anastasiades’ visit to Moscow.
The agreements were misconstrued in some quarters in the UK, which read into the developments that Cyprus was offered money from Russia in return for the establishment of a military base.
Lord Sharkey quizzed the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Anelay on the issue during Tuesday’s session.
“There is also talk of use of an airbase at Paphos, which is 40 miles from our base at Akrotiri,” said Lord Sharkey. “President [Vladimir] Putin has said that this deal should not cause any worries anywhere. Does the Minister agree with President Putin or does she agree with the United States State Department’s comment on the Cyprus deal that now is not the time to be doing business as normal with Russia?” he said.
The minister responded with a comment similar to one made by Britain’s Minister for Europe David Lidington last week that the UK government has been and remains in regular discussion with the Republic of Cyprus about security and defence matters, and have been briefed on the agreement signed in Moscow.
“The Cypriot government has assured us that these agreements represent a continuation of existing arrangements,” she added.
She also said it had been made clear many times to Britain’s European partners that “it cannot be business as usual with Russia while it maintains its position over Ukraine”.
“My noble friend refers to a situation in the Republic of Cyprus that I do not recognise. When speaking to Russian media, President Anastasiades explicitly ruled out the use of Limassol port for military purposes. Foreign Minister Kasoulides also said to the press, after the February EU Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in Brussels, that there was no question of Russian air or naval military bases on the soil of Cyprus. It is a continuation of existing agreements,” the Baroness said.
She also said it was important that the EU maintained unity on sanctions.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass piped in that British Prime Minister David Cameron had made an arbitrary decision in 2014 during a meeting with Anastasiades in London that “the Greek Cypriots would have the right of development within our sovereign base areas”.
“The MoD and the FCO appear not to have been involved in any strategic input,” he added.
Baroness Anelay responded that the arrangement on non-military development had reaffirmed the strong bonds of friendship and partnership which existed between Cyprus and the UK across many areas, notably defence, security, EU reform and foreign policy co-operation.
“Non-military development is a further measure of the normalisation of administrative planning laws and shows that the United Kingdom and Cyprus are serious about working together on our shared interests,” she said.
Lord Hannay, who was once Britain’s special envoy for Cyprus during the period leading up to the 2004 referendum on the Annan plan then offered his two cents worth: “Does the Minister agree that it might be useful to say to the government of Cyprus that President Putin’s policy in the south-east of Ukraine bears a striking resemblance to the creation of the TRNC [Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus] – which, I believe, is not supported by the Russian Government?”
“As ever, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with his long experience of diplomacy, knows where to hit the spot,” the Baroness responded.