THE ARRIVAL in Cyprus of the US Secretary of State John Kerry the day after the visit of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave everyone an opportunity to compare the stance of the two countries with regard to the peace talks and the prospects of a Cyprus settlement. Not that any comparison was ever likely to be objective or unbiased given the unabashed pro-Russian sentiment of our politicians and journalists who also nurse an intense hostility towards the West and the US since the days of the Cold War.
This was evident before the two men had even arrived in Cyprus, after it was announced that Lavrov had declined to meet Mustafa Akinci in his office. This was seen as a “principled stand” by Russia, the “perennial supporter and friend of Cyprus”, nobody daring suggesting the decision could have been dictated by the tense relations between Moscow and Ankara, after the downing of the Russian jet. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Lavrov had taken a stand on principle, because Moscow’s foreign policy, according to Cypriot political folklore, is determined by principles and not the country’s national interests.
Kerry, in contrast, met Akinci in his office, thus, according to DIKO, “equating the pseudo-state with the Cyprus Republic.” For EDEK, Kerry “confirmed the stance and behaviour of the US for indirect recognition of the pseudo-state and deviating from international legality.” As we would expect, the parties focused on the form rather than the substance, making the visit to Akinci’s office the main issue. This was an easy way to reinforce the decades-old myth they have been peddling to the Cypriot public about ‘good’ Russia and ‘bad’ US.
Yet the reality was that Lavrov did not meet Akinci because his visit had a different purpose from that of Kerry. Lavrov was not here to try to give the settlement talks a push, by encouraging and offering his country’s support to the efforts being made by the two leaders. If this was the purpose of his visit he probably would not have snubbed Akinci. The purpose of his visit, “which was much more than just ceremonial,” was to the discussion of bilateral relations and “to broaden trade ties.” Asked about the Cyprus talks, Lavrov repeated the rhetoric that would have pleased the rejectionist parties, saying Russia was opposed to time-frames and arbitration adding that a settlement plan should not be imposed from outside. He also expressed his opposition to Turkish guarantees and said there was a need for a different security guarantee.
In telling us what we should not accept and avoiding even the routine, positive platitudes about the talks, Lavrov was blatantly pandering to the rejectionists, indicating that Russia would not be too disappointed if the talks failed to produce a deal. This would be consistent with actions of his ambassador in Nicosia who regularly meets politicians opposed to a settlement and makes joint statements with them.
Kerry, meanwhile, met President Anastasiades and Akinci separately and together over dinner with the Espen Barth Eide to establish how the talks were progressing and to discuss ways in which the US could support them. It would have been totally counter-productive to have thrown a wobbly about meeting Akinci in his office, when the objective was to encourage the leaders and give peace efforts a push. In his meetings he discussed the financing of a settlement and promised US help for its implementation, while his statement was positive and optimistic.
He said among other things: “Our focus must be on what we can change. Today I have witnessed that desire. I am more convinced than ever that a settlement is within reach… A united Cyprus can stand as a beacon for peace in a troubled region of the world.” This could be dismissed as diplomatic platitudes and wishful thinking, but Kerry saw the bigger picture and tried to offer a positive message, in contrast to Lavrov’s comments about what we should not accept. While Kerry urged the two leaders to move forward, Lavrov tacitly encouraged the rejectionists’ negativity.
This is not meant as censure of Russia, which like any other country is pursuing its national interests. A Cyprus settlement that would end divisions within NATO, foster energy co-operation among countries in the Eastern Mediterranean and increase the West’s influence in the region, understandably, would not be welcomed by Russia. US strategic planning for the region would be served by such developments which is why it has been pushing for a settlement. Like Russia, its primary concern is the pursuit of its national interest, which under current conditions would be served by a Cyprus settlement. This is what we need to understand and leave aside absurd theories about principles.