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Our View: Does FM’s visit to America mean Cyprus has chosen a side?

Foreign minister Nicos Christodoulides has raised his political profile significantly with his visit to the US this week, where he met Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton among others in Washington. His high-level contacts were to have been concluded with a meeting in New York on Thursday evening with the US permanent representative at the United Nations Nikki Haley.

The meetings with top officials of the Trump administration were not just photo opportunities but also had substance. At his meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Wess Mitchell a joint declaration of intent was signed for co-operation on security, economic, commercial, shipping and other issues, according to official reports. Primarily, they agreed to strengthen bilateral co-operation on security.

Was this an indication that the Cyprus government had decided to move closer to the West, something that could jeopardise its close ties with Russia? On the contrary, Christodoulides made a point of dismissing any such idea, telling the Cyprus News Agency after his meeting with Bolton that “we discussed the multi-themed foreign policy of the Cyprus Republic.” By “multi-themed,” he was suggesting that it was not exclusively westward-looking. The Christofias government labelled its efforts to be on good terms with both Moscow and Washington as “multi-dimensional” foreign policy.

Speaking on state radio on Thursday morning, Christodoulides tried to re-assure the presenter that the strengthening of relations with the US in no way suggested the government had positioned Cyprus with the West, claiming the world was no longer divided along Cold War lines. The foreign minister appeared to have been turning a blind eye to the international reality to justify his nebulous, multi-themed foreign policy. Is he not aware of the bad relations between the West and Russia and that the latter is the subject of sanctions imposed by the US and EU?

Is Christodoulides not aware of the warnings – some described these as threats – issued earlier in the year to the Cyprus banks by the US administration that led to closing of thousands of bank accounts held by Russians? Does this indicate that there is no hostility or division between East and West? The world remains divided into East and West even if it does not suit our foreign minister to admit it because in such a case, the government would have to choose sides.

His visit to Washington would suggest that the government has chosen a side even though it is afraid to say so publicly for fear of alienating the sizeable and vociferous pro-Russia camp of Cyprus. Christodoulides is not so naïve to believe that Cyprus can have close ties with both Moscow and Washington.

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