Cyprus is one of nine EU countries that have refused so far to expel Russian diplomats in the wake of Moscow’s suspected involvement in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday that 25 countries around the world, and Nato, had now moved to expel over 100 Russian diplomats.
The EU’s coordinated response to the alleged Russian attack saw 18-member states expel anything from one to 23 diplomats, in the case of the UK. The US expelled 60.
Cyprus joined Austria, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Greece in refusing to expel any diplomats for their own various reasons, some because there is as yet “no smoking gun”.
According to the Cyprus foreign ministry website, there are some 40 diplomats including Ambassador Stanislav Osadchiy at the embassy in Nicosia made up of counsellors, first and second secretaries, and attaches.
Government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou told the Cyprus News Agency that Cyprus was among the countries that would not take such measures against Moscow.
“This was also the position of Cyprus at COREPER, that we are in line (with the EU Conclusions and Decisions) but our country is not in a position to take measures against countries that are permanent members of the UN Security Council,” he said.
The spokesman’s reasoning was puzzling since both France and the UK are permanent members of the Security Council along with Russia, China and the US, and those countries, bar China, have joined the expulsions.
Cyprus and Russia have close ties going back decades, in addition to the island’s business and tourism interests, and the large number of Russian residents on the island.
According to the EUobserver: “Greece, where the ruling coalition also contains a pro-Russian far-right party, called Anel, said previously it would never sanction a member of the UN permanent security council and that it wanted to see more evidence on what had happened in the UK. Cyprus, whose banks hold billions of euros in Russian capital and which has also been selling EU passports to wealthy Russians, followed Greece.”
Referring to the EU nations that did not go along with the consensus, Bloomberg said countries such as Malta, Luxembourg or Cyprus “have a good excuse” not to join the action… “their Moscow embassies aren’t lavishly staffed, and the inevitable tit-for-tat would seriously hurt their representation.”
Moscow has denied being behind the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the southern English city of Salisbury. Skripal, 66, and Yulia Skripal, 33, were found unconscious on a public bench in a shopping centre on March 4 and remain critically ill in hospital.