The response by some political parties has been shocking

By Christos P. Panayiotides

Ukraine is the second largest European country, with an area of 600 thousand square kilometres and a population of 45 million. For comparison purposes, Cyprus has an area of nine thousand square kilometres and a population of one million. Ukraine shares borders with Russia in the east and the northeast, with Belarus in the north, with Poland, Hungary and Slovakia in the west, with Romania and Moldova in the southwest, and the Black Sea and the Sea of Azof in the south.

On the Ukrainian side of the border with Russia is the Donbas region, which includes the Luhansk and the Donetsk provinces. These two states are inhabited and controlled by Russophile/Russian-speaking separatists and are the two states that Russia very recently recognised as independent sovereign states and in which it has officially installed “Russian peacekeeping forces”.

In addition, a number of Russophile/Russian-speaking people permanently live in the rest of the Donbas region. Until a few days ago, this area was under the control of the Ukrainian army but it is gradually coming under the control of the invading Russian military forces, which are brutally forcing their way into the Ukrainian territory.

In this area (on the coast of the Sea of Azov) is the city of Mariupolis, with 500 thousand inhabitants, many of them of Greek origin, who were forced to relocate there from Crimea, in the late 17th century. Mariupolis is the second most important Black Sea port, with a large naval base nearby. West of Mariupolis is the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014. In Crimea important economic interests are held by Russian oligarchs.

Based on what we have seen so far, the objectives of the Russian invasion appear to be to return Ukraine to its former satellite status within the Soviet Union. The two main pillars on which the Soviet Union was entrenched were (a) a centrally planned and controlled state and (b) the control of the state and the economy by the members of a strictly stratified communist party. Both literally collapsed some 30 years ago, leading to the dissolution of the mighty Soviet Union.

The free choice of most of the former members of the Soviet Union was to seek their integration into the liberal, democratic politico-economic system of the West. An isolated Russia ended up relying on an oligopolistic, oligarchic capitalistic economic system, driven (to a large extent) by the “successors” of the old communist structures. In this new order, very few countries (one of them is Belarus) continued to serve as satellites of Moscow.

The widespread rejection of communism by most of the satellite states of the disbanded Soviet Union and their desire to end the stigma of servitude – even to the declaration of the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from Moscow, some four years ago – have embarrassed and angered all those who loyally serve the Russian system.

In my opinion, the embarrassment caused by the failure to come up with a palatable justification for the collapse of a system that was heralded as the model the world should follow, is the deeper cause of the problems confronting the Russian new order. Ukraine was simply the last straw that caused the Russian leadership to explode and led to the military invasion of Ukraine. For Moscow, the possibility of the Ukraine becoming a member of Nato – the atrium of economic, social and political liberalism – was a nightmare.

According to Vladimir Putin’s own statements, the objective of the military invasion of Ukraine was twofold: (a) the “demilitarisation” of Ukraine and (b) the “denazification” of the country (i.e. the substitution of the freely elected government of the Ukraine with another government of his own choice).

I must confess that I do not understand where the legitimacy of either objective comes from. Alas, if an independent country does not have the right to arm itself to provide adequate cover against an attack from a neighbouring country.

The lukewarm response of certain Cypriot politicians (fortunately, a minority) to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has, indeed, been an unpleasant surprise, given that Cyprus has suffered and continues to suffer the evil consequences of an identical military invasion and a war that has not yet formally ended. Cyprus suffered a military invasion by a neighbouring country almost 100 times its size, an invasion justified on the grounds that the invader was seeking to protect a minority. It led to an occupation that continues uninterrupted for 50 years. Cyprus was denied the right to install a defensive missile system on the grounds that its installation would “upset” the military dominance of the one country at the expense of the other. Cyprus is a country that is threatened with the secession of one third of its territory to a neighbouring country. The case of Cyprus is not simply similar to that of the Ukraine; it is identical, in every little detail.

Certain members of Akel’s ‘Politburo’ have admittedly condemned the invasion, but regrettably at the same time have played down Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine and have thus washed clean the blood-stained hands of the invader, with words such as “but” and “however” and with arguments such as “the Americans did the same in 1962, in Cuba” or “Nato was looking for trouble”, defiantly ignoring the fact that – at no stage – has Ukraine (or any other former communist country) shown the slightest aggressive attitude towards Russia.

In line, Akel’s Giorgos Georgiou was one of the very few MEPs, who failed to support the resolution for a tougher response to Russia. I have been truly disappointed to see Akel failing to grab this golden opportunity to convincingly demonstrate that it has freed itself from its dependency on Russia.

Added to the voices of Akel were the voices of the “patriotic” opposition parties, who were, indeed, very quick to underline the similarities between the invasions of Ukraine and Cyprus but felt that this was sufficient reason “to demand” – here and now – the same treatment of the two by the European Union, with the implicit threat of Cyprus distancing itself from the punitive measures that were being taken against Russia.

I have honestly wondered whether these people went to the trouble of taking a two-minute break to ask themselves the aim of their tactics. Were they aimed at persuading Turkey to back-track, to apologise for its actions and to find ways to compensate us for the suffering and the pain it has caused to us? Were they aimed at persuading the West to expel Turkey from Nato and send it straight into the arms of Moscow? Or were they intended to force the identification of dissimilarities between the two events that would be sufficient to justify a different response in each case?

In fact, this is exactly what Turkey smartly tried to do. Although Turkey condemned Russia in much stronger terms, compared to the restrained criticism of the “patriotic” political parties of Cyprus, she sought to differentiate between the two twin cases and Russia was only too happy to applaud. The “patriotic” political parties of Cyprus rushed to explain their stance by pointing out that they did not wish to offend a “friendly” country such as Russia. Please, do not ask me how they justified the adjective they used to refer to that country because I have never been able to respond in a satisfactory manner to that question myself.

Then we have those who are quick to claim that they place the rule of law above their personal interests, but nonetheless rushed to remind us that it is not unlikely to see our tourist industry suffering and the price of fuel and that of cereals rising as a result of the sanctions imposed on Russia, and to suggest that Cyprus should not have agreed so readily to close its airspace to Russian aircraft, given the risk of Tymbou (Ercan) airport in the north being used as an alternative destination.

Apart from the fact that it is too early to attempt to quantify the economic impact of the war, obviously it depends on its duration and on its final outcome, the possibility of Turkey allowing the use of Tymbou (Ercan) while the prohibition lasts are worth evaluating further. As we all know, Tymbou is in the territory of the European Union. It follows that, if the prohibition on European Union airspace were to be provocatively violated, the union’s air forces, which are already on high alert in the area, would have no choice but to intervene to stop the violation.

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