Cyprus Mail
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Russia is not the horse Cyprus should bet on

The S-300s ordered from Russia famously ended up in Crete

Our relations with the Soviet Union and Russia have rarely proved beneficial


Two days after Cyprus’ independence, the new state was formally recognised by the Soviet Union on 18 August 1960. The Kremlin immediately saw the opportunity to acquire a presence on a strategically positioned island that until then had been the West’s exclusive fiefdom.

At that stage, the only left-wing voice in Cyprus was Akel and its closely attached trade union, PEO which was founded in 1941. Ideologically, they both had a peculiar, Cyprus-brand of a communist orientation which pointed to a close relationship between the Cypriot left and the Soviet Union.

Cyprus’ first president, Archbishop Makarios, flirted with the Soviet Union in the hope that Moscow would support his plans for the political integration of Cyprus with Greece. Admittedly, from an ideological point of view, Makarios was an anti-communist for a variety of reasons, including the hostile stand of all the communist regimes against the Orthodox Church. (The Russian Orthodox Church was historically linked to the Tsars, whose reign came to an end with the October 1917 Revolution).

Thus, Makarios ended up following “the middle road” of the non-aligned block because he believed that by doing so he was serving Cyprus’ interests. Makarios’ approach perfectly suited the Soviet Union, given that Cyprus was clearly set in the western sphere of influence and any direct Soviet interference in Cyprus would have inevitably given rise to serious problems, in a period when the East-West relations were stretched to the limit.

However, this did not prevent Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut, from visiting Cyprus in February 1962, and receiving an unprecedented reception with banners carrying slogans in Russian and Greek, declaring that “the Friendship of the Cypriot and Soviet people is now being founded”.

This climate of a “platonic relationship”, which was characteristic of these early years, persists to this day, with one exception of substance. This was the case of Cyprus accepting from Russia an order for 40 S-300 missiles in 1997. In the end, the order was frustrated by Turkey’s intervention and the goods were delivered to Crete.

The basis of the relationship between the two countries was and continues to be founded on the following principles:


  1. Supporting Cyprus in respect of its national problem with general, non-specific, inexpensive declarations of principles, like “Russia supports a fair, viable and functional solution of the Cyprus problem” – a statement that may be interpreted in any way you wish – or “Russia would support a solution that would be acceptable to both the Cypriot communities”, as the Russian ambassador has stated on repeated occasions. Of course, one wonders if circumstances exist under which Russia would oppose a solution that has been accepted by both Cypriot communities.


  1. No substantial involvement in supporting the Greek Cypriot positions, without the consent of the West. This is precisely what happened in the case of the Turkish invasion in 1974, as documented by Glafkos Clerides in his memoirs. The same stand was taken in 2004 when Russia intervened at the UN Security Council to frustrate the efforts of securing the implementation of the celebrated Anan Plan, but also by pushing Akel into that memorable statement that “we vote NO, in order to cement YES”. Similar was the response to Cyprus’ cry for help to confront the economic crisis of 2013. The then Cyprus minister of finance, Michalis Sarris, went around Moscow begging for help, but left empty handed.


  1. In contrast, on numerous occasions Cyprus acted against its own interests in the hope of securing something in exchange from Russia. The example which stands out is the support that was given to Russia, at EU level, in respect of the Crimean problem and earlier over Kosovo. Cyprus’ stance alienated the Baltic States, which continue today to keep Cyprus at a distance.


In contrast, the developments in relations between Russia and Turkey in recent years have been sharply different. The epicentre has been the establishment of a multi-dimensional base of cooperation in the military field (S-400), in the energy field (nuclear plants) and in the economic field (tourism and cooperation in undertaking big construction projects). These developments are a source of constant headaches for both the European Union and the United States.


You may argue that Russia has supported Cyprus with the massive transfers of capital from Russia to Cyprus that occurred during the first phase of Russia’s political transformation. To start with, a big part of this capital was repatriated to Russia, thus elevating Cyprus’ “offshore” companies to one of the larger investors of “foreign” capital in the ex-Soviet Union. Admittedly, some of these funds remained in Cyprus and drained the Cyprus economy because banks here paid lavish interest rates on these bank deposits, compared with the interest rates prevailing internationally. These costly funds were then invested by the Cypriot banks in the acquisition of foreign banks, which were in a shaky financial position, or in buying junk-bonds in the futile hope that these investments would yield the super-profits that would make us all rich.

As you know, what happened in practice was exactly the opposite, leading to the bailing-in of the banks by utilising part of the deposits (loans) over a certain amount. As is often the case, along with the dry wood, some green trees suffered the consequences of the bush fire.

As things stand at the moment (and it is not anticipated that they will change in the foreseeable future) this horse is not the one on which Cyprus should place its bets. Cyprus must, at last, come to realise that she is not a big power and, if she carries on pretending that she is, she will be gravely disappointed, as has happened in numerous cases in the past.

If Akel, in particular, wishes to play a protagonistic role in the Cyprus political scene in the 21st century, the party must find the courage to fully liberate itself from Russia’s influence and to develop into a politically and economically liberal party, with a social orientation and sensitivities that embrace and express the Cypriot people.



Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Sunday Mail, Cyprus Mail and Alithia



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