For decades the media and some political parties have insisted Russia has a genuine interest in Cyprus. Nothing is further from the truth, as Russia’s lack of interest in our latest gas licensing round made clear
By Demetris Papadopoulos
THE NAMES of the companies that submitted an expression of interest in the third oil and gas licensing round for blocks in Cyprus’ EEZ, were announced on Wednesday. These included companies from the US, Italy, France, Norway, Scotland, Qatar and Israel. Apart from the last two countries, which are close allies of the US, the rest are member-countries of Nato.
The results of this licensing round once again proved that the claims by Cyprus’ pro-Moscow media relating to Russia’s involvement in the EEZ were groundless. The Russian interest is always part of the “timeless positions of principle” embraced by Moscow on the Cyprus problem and is presented as emphatic proof of Russia’s support for Cyprus’ energy planning. The facts, however, prove that this interest exists solely for publicity purposes.
As recently as March 3 this year, the ambassador of the Russian Federation, Stanislav Osadchiy, told the CyBC that in previous licensing rounds there was no Russian interest because the deposits in the Cypriot EEZ were too small, but things had changed since then.
The very next day Phileleftheros gave an explanation for this change.
“The setting of the potential for co-operation among Cyprus, Greece and Bulgaria,” after President Anastasiades’ visit to Sofia, was what had changed things, the paper claimed and added: “The opening with Bulgaria constituted the icing on the cake for Russia, which is closely monitoring developments and the close co-operation between Cyprus and Egypt, because, as is well-known, Russia has attributed a significant role to Egypt for decades now.”
According to Phileleftheros’ information, Osadchiy had drafted a memo for Moscow and “has informed the state decision centres in Moscow that, among others, there is potential for co-operation even through state structures with joint ventures as with EYK (Cyprus Hydrocarbons Company) and DEFA (Public Company for Natural Gas)”.
Despite the ambassador’s efforts, Russian companies showed no interest in the third licensing round, despite the recent calls by Edek chief Marinos Sizopoulos “to give plots from our EEZ to Russia”. Giorgos Lillikas also supported the move as a way of strengthening our strategic co-operation with Russia against Nato and the US.
As a rule, whenever the parties and the media call for co-operation on energy issues with Russia it is backed by grandiose geo-strategic plans for the establishment of an alliance against Turkey; it is wishful thinking, encouraged by the Russian embassy. They ignore that geo-strategic reality dictates that Turkey, the big and important country of the region, is the strategic ally Russia wants.
In 2009 the Russian fleet left the Black Sea for the first time since the end of the Cold War and headed to the eastern Mediterranean. Its destination was Syria, Russia’s long-term strategic ally in the Mediterranean. In the fleet was the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov which according to Greece’s media would have docked in Piraeus. The arrival of the fleet in the Mediterranean – scheduled months earlier – coincided with tensions in the Greece-Turkey relations over the continental shelf.
Greek daily Ethnos wrote at the time: “The appearance of the Russian bear in the Aegean, after decades, was not out of the blue. The arrival of the Russian aircraft carrier Kuzentsov, south of Castellorizo had been planned behind the scenes by Athens-Moscow-Nicosia and its primary aim is to send a message to Ankara, but also to Nato that Russia remains a close friend of Greece and Cyprus.”
In the end, the Russian fleet, instead of going to Piraeus, carried out communications exercises and search and rescue drills with the Turkish navy between Rhodes and Crete as part of the TURRUSS-2009 navy exercise. Subsequently it went to Turkey’s Akzas naval base in the Aegean.
The CyBC and the newspapers that were celebrating about the presence of the ‘bear’ wrote nothing about where it had gone. Only a blogger posted a comment expressing his disappointment. “The Russian commander of the fleet fished snapper in the Greek Aegean and ate it with the Turks on the deck of the Kuzentsov,” he wrote.
At the end of 2011, the Kuznetsov was preparing for another trip to the Mediterranean because of developments in Syria. Phileleftheros linked the visit of the aircraft carrier to the opening of the second oil and gas licensing round for the Cypriot EEZ and announced the participation of Gazprom in the second round. It wrote that “as is being reported from Moscow, the Russian colossus expressed readiness to start geological surveys for the discovery of natural gas deposits.” Russia, Phileleftheros wrote, said that “it can undertake action immediately, in at least two plots in Cyprus’ EEZ.”
The newspaper linked Russian interest with “its geo-strategic interests in the eastern Mediterranean and gave information about the arrival of the Kuznetsov. It wrote: “Information says that it is possible the Russian armada could dock at a Cypriot port to strengthen the sense of security in Cyprus given the ongoing procedure of drilling for hydrocarbons in the EEZ of Cyprus.”
The daily Simerini went even further, reporting there had been an agreement with Gazprom and that “the main reason for the arrival in the coming months of an aircraft carrier and a combat battalion of the Russian war navy” was the alleged agreement for the two plots in the Cyprus EEZ. In the end, instead of participating in the Cyprus EEZ, Gazprom announced the renewal and expansion of its energy co-operation with Turkey.
The next episode in the energy saga unfolded with the collapse of the economy in 2013, when the entire political leadership was ready to give all the plots in our EEZ to Russia in exchange for a loan that would have freed us from the Troika’s demands. Thankfully, Moscow was not interested for several reasons, one of which was its relations with Turkey. Referring to Cyprus’ offer, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said: “Primarily, I do not fully comprehend how much they are worth and then we understand there are some problems with the Turkish side.”
Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak was more blunt: “There are some difficult issues, with regard to the waters around Cyprus, and we will not jeopardise our relations with the Turkish republic as our co-operation has been going for years.”
In February 2014, the Kuznetsov visited our neighbourhood once again. The visit – as with previous visits was scheduled months in advance – coincided with harassment of a Norwegian exploratory vessel in the Cypriot EEZ by a Turkish navy frigate. Phileleftheros, which always has information about Russian military and naval moves, linked the two events in a report without a shred of evidence to back its claim, under the headline, “Turkey with a frigate, Russia with an aircraft carrier.”
In October 2014 there was tension caused by the advance of the Turkish exploratory ship Barbaros which led to the break-up of the Cyprus talks. Russia, which had a continuous presence in the eastern Mediterranean because of the war in Syria, reserved a sea area east of Cyprus for navy exercises.
Phileleftheros obtained the information about the Russian exercise and linked it to the movements of Barbaros, under the banner headline, “Russian exercises with rockets next to the Barbaros”. Cyprus navy captain, Constantinos Fytiris told the Cyprus News Agency that the presence of the Russian navy had nothing to do with the EEZ of Cyprus. He clarified also that the exercise would not be anywhere close to the Barbaros which “is north, outside our area and close to Turkey for the time being”.
Despite these clarifications, the Cyprus media, led by the state CyBC, continued disseminating the Russian propaganda and presenting the naval exercise as if it were held in response to the incursions into Cyprus’ EEZ by the Barbaros. They completely ignored that the reason for the exercise was the situation in Syria.
President Putin was asked about this issue by a Turkish journalist and responded thus: “I do not know who spoke and what he said about this matter. I do know, though, that neither the Russian state nor the energy ministry is involved in natural gas projects in Cyprus. It is up to private companies to deal with such a procedure if it exists. They should know however that it would be their responsibility to face any crisis and the dangers that exist there.”
Despite the continuous dashing of their hopes – not to mention the fact that Russia’s overriding concern is maintaining its relations with Turkey – the media and political parties, wearing a patriotic mantle, carry on championing Russia. If this happened once, it could have been a mistake or poor judgement. If it happened twice it could have been considered naivety or wishful thinking. But when it happens systematically, it can only be organised propaganda, especially as it has been going on for half a century.
It suffices to say that in October 1964, Philelftheros had reported that “Soviet warships equipped with missiles are heading for the Mediterranean to repel any attack against Cyprus. Soviet paratroopers are ready for immediate action…”