The foreign ministry is in negotiations with Brussels in the hopes of securing an exemption from EU sanctions against Russia in case Cyprus is unsuccessful in obtaining the necessary aerial support equipment needed for firefighting as summer approaches, Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis said on Monday.
Nicosia wants an exemption in order that will allow Cyprus to lease Russian-made helicopters. The EU sanctions imposed on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine have created problems for the fire service, Kadis said and in the event they are unsuccessful in fulfilling needs, steps were already being taken to try and secure the exemption from Brussels in the interests of national security.
“Our ministry is doing everything it can to ensure our readiness, especially due to the extraordinary circumstances arising this year with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent restrictions on cooperation with any bodies with links to Russian interests”.
All this has affected the process of securing additional aircraft and has brought on some delays, he added, noting that two tenders, one for renting helicopters and one for planes, were not successful.
At the same time, he said there is a plan B as “within days we begin negotiations with other interested bodies in order to reach an agreement, with the goal of securing two helicopters and two planes as soon as possible, early June if possible”.
Kadis reminded that the forestry department has two aircraft at its disposal and is expecting two more to arrive from Spain on May 13. In addition, “this year we also have a helicopter from the National Guard and another from the police, while efforts are being made to secure additional aircraft, through transnational cooperation”.
He later told Cybc that around 110 additional forest firefighters will be hired by the end of the week in order to fortify firefighting forces.
The situation in Ukraine has not simply affected supply chains from companies with Russian links, but it has also made it more difficult for all European countries to access and enhance their firefighting services, the minister said.
“I have discussed this with my fellow ministers dealing with these issues, and the same problems are being addressed in all European countries,” he said, expressing the hope that “with methodical, hard work, we will be in full swing as soon as possible, by the end of May or beginning of June”.
Kadis also said that in case his ministry’s negotiations bear no fruit, the foreign ministry is also separately taking actions towards securing an exemption to collaborate with the supplier of Russian Kamov helicopters, “because you understand that this is a matter of national security”.
“The foreign minister has already been briefed on the matter, and steps are being taken in Brussels in order to allow the Republic of Cyprus to lease the Russian helicopters for this year’s firefighting needs”.
The minister finally said that last week he met with a representative of the company leasing Kamov helicopters, adding that “it seems possible, provided we get the green light, for us to get these helicopters very soon, but this depends on what will happen with our other negotiations with other companies”.