As things stand Cyprus will not send weapons to Ukraine, President Nicos Anastasiades said late on Thursday, following the buzz generated by earlier remarks from the government spokesman.
Anastasiades was responding to reporters’ questions when he was asked to comment on the opinion voiced that possible involvement in the Ukraine conflict, by transferring its Russian weapons to that country, would “spell disaster” for Cyprus.
The president said: “I’d like to say one thing – half of Cyprus is occupied, we need defence, and therefore without defence we cannot survive.”
He added: “So I would like to set people’s minds at ease. We will not send arms to Ukraine.”
But in a follow-up remark, Anastasiades seemed not to completely rule out the possibility.
He said that if another country were willing to replace Cyprus’ military equipment with weapons of equal potency that can act as a deterrent, “that is a different issue.”
Earlier in the day, government spokesman Marios Pelekanos had said the Republic would be “ready” to consider transfer of its Russian weapons to Ukraine, but no specific proposal or consultation had yet taken place.
He added that the transfer of arms can be carried out but only if the Republic received military apparatus of equal power and capabilities.
“There have been no specific consultations on this issue. It was raised in discussions and various contacts that we had either with our European partners or with the United States,” Pelekanos said, commenting on his recent statements to the New York Times.
The government spokesman told the American newspaper the island “would be ready to consider” this transfer.
The paper mentioned the lifting of the US embargo on Cyprus by the Biden administration, allowing it to buy American weapons. A move, the article stated, which was several years in the making and aimed to distance Cyprus from Russian influence.
Since the lifting of the US arms embargo on Cyprus, Pelekanos said on Thursday, “the US is still an option for the Republic of Cyprus in terms of its arms options in general.”
However, he told the Cyprus News Agency that the Republic is not yet in a position to provide arms.
This is “simply because we are a country under occupation, we are a country that has to ensure its defence capabilities, and if we were to make such a move we would weaken our deterrence capabilities.”
His comments echoed what he told the New York Times when citing “serious security threats posed on a daily basis by the Turkish occupation forces,” where he explained that “Cyprus’ current security architecture should remain intact.”
But beyond that, he said, “such a possibility could be considered provided that this equipment is replaced with equivalent or better equipment.”
“But there is no concrete proposal, there is no consultation, we have not been proposed something and we are evaluating it,” Pelekanos said.
Following the government’s statements, main opposition Akel spokesman Georgios Koukoumas said the party is “totally opposed” to sending military materiel to the war-torn country and called on other parties to take a clear position.
The position of the government and Disy is “dangerous,” Koukoumas added.
Sending weapons to Ukraine means the direct involvement of Cyprus in the war with all the consequences that this will have for our country.
“The idea of replacing the Russian National Guard’s armament with Western/Nato armament ignores the consequences that this will have, at least for a significant period of time, on the country’s defence and security.”
Instead, efforts should be focused on diplomatic initiatives, the Akel MP said.
“The pressure from the US and the EU on European states to send military weapons to Ukraine, instead of opting for diplomatic initiatives by the UN and the EU for a ceasefire, peace and a return to dialogue, is tantamount to adding fuel to the fire of a war which is now taking nightmarish directions for humanity.”
Meanwhile, a US official told the New York Times that Cyprus is now “a possible option” as a supplier to Ukraine.
The article notes that Cyprus had been under a US arms embargo for 35 years, imposed to help tamp down tensions after a conflict left the island bitterly divided between a government backed by Greece and a portion still controlled by Turkey — both Nato members.
In that time, the article continues, Cyprus turned to the Soviet Union and then Russia for weapons and military equipment. Today its stockpile of at least 10 Tor and Buk missile systems that can down Russian aircraft, drones and cruise missiles could provide a bonanza for an embattled Ukrainian army.
“But the Cypriot government has made it clear that it wants young and better substitutes, which could compete with Turkey and rekindle an arms race in the still unresolved conflict,” the article said.
Bradley Bowman, a former US army officer and senior military expert told the paper that lifting the arms embargo will also allow other Western nations to quickly transfer their American-made weapons to Cyprus without first obtaining approval from Washington. This, he said, could replenish Cyprus’ arsenals with newer, Nato-compatible systems if it transfers its post-Soviet weapons and ammunition to Ukraine.
“It is expected that Cyprus will phase out its current weapons with systems which are compatible with Nato, pulling away from Russia and manufacturers in other rogue states.”