By George Psyllides and Elias Hazou
CYPRUS on Thursday rejected suggestions there was a military build-up as part of Nato plans in the region as the Russia repeated Wednesday’s claim tweeting that a delegation of US experts had recently inspected military and strategic sites on the island with a view to setting up a forward deployment base.
The tweet released around 1pm by the Russian embassy in Israel read: “A delegation of #US experts has recently inspected military and strategic sites #Cyprus with a view to setting up a forward deployment base for the US Armed Forces. #Washington is actively discussing with #Nicosia ways to expand military-technical cooperation.”
In a later tweet, the embassy added: “#Russia pointed out to #Cyprus that efforts to militarise the island and draw it into #US plans for #MiddleEast will lead to dangerous destabilisation. #Moscow cannot turn a blind eye to anti-Russia nature of these plans and, should they materialise, will be forced to take action.”
It was unclear whether the Russians were protesting pre-emptively, or whether they had specific knowledge of ongoing US activity in Cyprus.
The tweets followed a threat voiced by Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday over what she claimed were talks between Cyprus and the US on expanding military cooperation.
So far Nicosia has avoided directly addressing Moscow’s specific allegations either on Wednesday or Thursday. The Russian embassy in Nicosia has kept silent on the matter even though Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides called the Russian ambassador for an explanation shortly after the initial statements, reports said. He later spoke to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the phone.
Government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou on Thursday said not only was the government not interested in any military build-up but it was trying to settle the Cyprus problem and get rid of the occupying forces.
“This observation couldn’t refer to the Republic of Cyprus,” he said.
The spokesman reiterated that Cyprus had agreements with many countries and as part of that it granted facilities for humanitarian reasons.
“There is no question of militarisation,” he added.
Prodromou said Cyprus was constantly developing relations with other countries “as any independent state would do” with the interests of its citizens and stability and security in the area in mind.
“Security in our region is threatened by other factors, specifically the actions carried out by Turkey all the time,” the spokesman said.
According to Prodromou, it had been reaffirmed that Cyprus has close, friendly relations with Russia.
He also added that Cyprus was a member of the EU and no one could dispute this position and the orientation it involved.
However, he said, this did not entail confrontation with any third country like Russia “with which we have special relations.”
The Russian embassy in Israel’s tweets however went beyond Zakharova’s generic remarks a day earlier and may be connected with remarks made by President Nicos Anastasiades this week when he said he expected the US to participate in the trilateral cooperation between Greece, Cyprus and Israel in the near future.
The next trilateral summit is due to take place in Israel in two weeks’ time.
Recent remarks by Greece’s defence minister Panos Kammenos also may have had a bearing.
In early October, following his meeting at the Pentagon with US Defence Secretary General James Mattis, Kammenos announced the speeding up of new “defence agreements” that would contribute to the design of a “virtually new energy policy” in the wider region of the south-eastern Mediterranean.
Asked whether the issue of Turkish threats to exploit natural resources within the Cypriot EEZ had been discussed at the meeting, the Greek minister said that the extension alone of the tripartite co-operation between Greece and Cyprus to the US, itself answered the question.
“I told you that we are going beyond the tripartite agreement of Greece, Cyprus and Israel and have the USA supporting us. I think that (this) is clear the message,” Kammenos said at the time.