Reports that the Cyprus government had been asked to give its Russian-made weapon systems to Ukraine has put the government in a quandary. Although Defence Minister Charalambos Petrides ruled this out, the impression given is that the matter is not closed as the United States, which came up with the idea, could persist with it.
Several countries with Russian-made weaponry have been asked to send it to Ukraine, because the Ukrainian army is familiar with it and would be able to use it immediately, without the need for training; it also has spare parts and ammunition. The National Guard has two Russian anti-aircraft systems – TOR/M1 and BUK-M1 – the T-80U and BMP3 tanks and the MI-35P assault helicopters which were going to be sold to Serbia.
Petrides has spoken several times about the matter since it was reported by Kathimerini on Sunday, repeating on Tuesday, after a meeting at the legislature, that there was no issue of the National Guard sending military equipment to Ukraine as this would cause problems to Cyprus’ defence. The previous day, the defence ministry issued an announcement saying there was no way “it would reduce the deterrent, defensive capabilities of a country under occupation.”
This is a perfectly understandable position to take, and the US would be unreasonable to expect Cyprus to give up what limited defence capability it has. We may not be hearing the full story. Is it possible the US offered to replace these tanks, choppers and anti-aircraft systems to persuade the government to hand over the Russian made military equipment? It cannot offer US-made military equipment as this is not covered by the partial lifting of the arms embargo. Even replacing the Russian-made arms with European-made equipment would probably take too long.
Disy deputy leader Harris Georgiades did not rule out the possibility. “If there were options for the replacement of part of the National Guard equipment in a way that would not undermine our defence capability and does not incur an unbearable cost and is in line with the political orientation of our country, then these should be explored,” he said. He had placed the matter in the broader context of Cyprus’ position in an increasingly divided world – with the West or with Russia?
Akel’s position was also fashioned by this consideration and was not without merit. “Cyprus’ involvement in the military conflict in Ukraine neither contributes to peace and the end of bloodshed nor protects the interests of our country,” it said, implying that siding with the West was out of the question.
In the end this is the bigger choice that has to be made with regard to the sending of military equipment to Ukraine. It may not be possible for Cyprus, as an EU member, to carry on navigating politically between East and West because the world has become divided.