IN THE END, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cancelled the five-country tour that would have also brought him to Cyprus last Tuesday. There were much more important issues to deal with in Washington and the visit to Cyprus had always seemed like a last-minute addition to Pompeo’s itinerary which would have taken him to four former Soviet Republics.
It seemed more like a courtesy visit, with the US State Department saying that Pompeo’s trip would “reaffirm the robust US-Republic of Cyprus relationship” at his meetings with President Nicos Anastasiades and Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides. He was also scheduled to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to “reaffirm to leaders of both communities continued US support for UN-facilitated, Cypriot-led efforts to reunify Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation in line with UN Security Council resolutions”.
Although there was no specific agenda for the planned visit, it would have been yet another indication of the improving US-Cyprus relations which has been a policy objective since Christodoulides took over the foreign ministry. A statement of intent was signed in November 2018 in Washington aimed at strengthening cooperation on security and encompassing the fight against terrorism, and Nicosia had hoped an agreement would have been signed during the visit. Christodoulides said earlier this week the government was in talks with the US about the rescheduling of Pompeo’s visit.
The irony is that Cyprus has decided to strengthen relations with the US at probably the least favourable time during the presidency of Donald Trump, who has no great interest in foreign policy or world security and has alienated most of US’ long-standing allies with his decisions and erratic behaviour. This is not to say it was a mistaken move because the strengthening of relations should have been pursued a long time ago, but our parties and government were unwilling to give up their anti-US rhetoric that dated back to the 1974 invasion and viewed every American attempt to assist the Cyprus peace process with suspicion, if not open hostility.
When Joe Biden visited Cyprus in 2015 as vice president, he called on the Anastasiades government to seize the opportunity for a settlement, highlighting the big prospects it would open for the island and offering the full support of the US. He was ignored. In fact, the current pursuit of closer ties with the US has more to do with the government’s energy plans, and the calculation that this would strengthen its position in dealing with Turkey’s illegal activities and spoiling tactics, than any wish for American assistance in the peace process.
Regardless of the Cyprus government’s motives, relations have been put on a much healthier footing than they had ever been in the past, and this was underlined by the approval of the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act that was approved by Congress last month and the lifting of the arms embargo on Cyprus. It has helped the Cyprus government that Greece has also decided to put behind its anti-US stance of the last four decades and seek closer relations with Washington. Paradoxically this change of policy was launched by the left-wing government of Alexis Tsipras and has been embraced by the New Democracy government; Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was in Washington last week and met President Trump.
Against this background, it came as a bit of a surprise that Christodoulides announced on Thursday that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would be visiting Cyprus soon and that arrangements were being made for Anastasiades to visit Moscow and meet President Vladimir Putin. What is the thinking behind these visits, so soon after the East Mediterranean Act was passed and the arms embargo lifted? Is this how Anastasiades and Christodoulides hope to show the US that Cyprus is a trusted and reliable ally? The strange thing is that the East Mediterranean Act stipulates that within 90 days the US secretaries of state, defence and energy should report on Russia’s influence in Cyprus, Greece and Israel and establish Moscow’s security, political and energy goals in the eastern Mediterranean, among other things.
While it would have been difficult to turn down Russia’s request for Lavrov’s visit, is there any compelling reason for Anastasiades to go to Moscow and meet Putin while his government is seeking stronger ties with the US? It is as if the government is going out of its way to undermine its own foreign policy planning by creating the impression in Washington it is at the beck and call of Moscow. We are not saying that it should end relations with Russia, but it must accept that it cannot have it both ways. Much as it would like to, it cannot be a reliable ally of the US and of Russia at the same time. If it refuses to choose a side it will be trusted by neither.