AFTER last week’s meeting of the European Council, it was reported that Cyprus was among the few member-states that had blocked the proposal to cut off Russia from the Swift payments system. This had become a fact although it was not a reflection of reality and the government, stung by the unjustified criticism that ensued, felt obliged to put the record straight.

Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides took this responsibility, tweeting early Saturday, “in the name of EU unity and solidarity to Ukrainian people, Cyprus has NOT objected to ANY EU sanctions including cutting off SWIFT.” Although this was very clear, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in a subsequent tweet implied that Cyprus had objected to the Swift measure, by saying, “Cyprus confirmed it will not block the decision to ban Russia from SWIFT.”

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides dismissed all the Swift-talk as misinformation on Monday, but this touched a wider problem for Cyprus. The Republic has acquired a reputation in Europe as the backer of the Russian Federation whenever sanctions are being discussed, either at COREPER or the Foreign Affairs Council. This reputation has been built over the years by Cyprus’ behaviour at the EU, either questioning the efficacy of sanctions against Russia or proposing lifting them.

The Republic with the positions it has taken over the years has come to be regarded by many of our partners as a defender of Russian interests in the EU. In the case of Swift, Cyprus may have been the subject of misinformation, but many seemed to have believed it because such a stance would have been consistent with past practice.

This view would have been reinforced on Sunday night during the informal foreign ministers’ meeting at which it was decided to close EU airspace to Russian aircraft. Kasoulides said Cyprus’ consent was given “with the reservation of our right to re-examine and/or reconsider the implementation of this decision, in the event that Turkey refuses to proceed to the closing of her airspace and proceeds with the instrumentalisation of this European decision, with the aim of attracting and transporting of Russian citizens to the occupied territory.”

It was not a smart position to take, as this will be viewed as a pretext for Cyprus not to implement an important sanction against Russia. What if Turkish airspace remained open and Russian tourists travelled to the north via Turkey? This is no justification for Cyprus to block the EU sanction, even if the reason was not to help Russia but linked to the Cyprus problem. Our EU partners decided to close EU airspace to Russia in an attempt to apply pressure on Moscow, and Cyprus has said it would consider not implementing this decision if Turkey did not also enforce it.

Turkey has no obligation to follow the EU, but we do, and the reservation expressed by Kasoulides was unnecessary, because once again we are giving the impression, wrongly perhaps, that we are now using the Cyprus problem as a pretext to oppose sanctions against Russia. This, at a time when all our partners back sanctions.