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Our View: Cyprus must choose between Russia and the West

russian foreign minister sergei lavrov meets with red cross president mirjana spoljaric egger in moscow
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Stern words were uttered by the Russian Federation’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about Cyprus and Greece, in response to a question by the Cyprus News Agency’s Moscow correspondent. He had asked Lavrov what he would say to all those “who believed that Russia was acting like other imperialist forces that violate international law and seek the occupation of territory and change of borders, a policy which struck at Greece and Cyprus.”

Lavrov’s answer sounded more like a reprimand: “I do not know from what Greece and Cyprus suffer the most. We were always very close friends with Greeks and Cypriots, while those metamorphoses that took place in the leaderships of these countries it was natural that we identified them and registered them.” Russia was a victim of the West, he claimed, as the US was “concentrating forces” from “its satellites” and Nato countries “so they could start a world hybrid war against us.”

How could the leaderships of Cyprus and Greece not know this? “I cannot imagine people that have the posts of prime minister and president of countries of Europe, much more so, of countries that have long historical relations with the Russian Federation, do not know the facts or are in no position to analyse them,” he told CNA. It was a dig at the Cyprus and Greece governments which aligned with the West after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and voted for EU sanctions, which they also implemented.

Russia is the leading practitioner of post-truth politics and it is in this field Lavrov is operating, maintaining that the aggressor, which has been on a mission to obliterate Ukraine, is in fact the victim of a US conspiracy. And he is appalled that countries that have been under Moscow’s influence, if not control, like Cyprus and, to a lesser extent, Greece do not share this warped version of reality. For Lavrov, loyalty to Moscow (euphemistically referred to as long historical relations), that nobody could accuse the Republic of lacking, dictates that its version of events is unquestioningly accepted and that we ignore the decisions of our EU partners.

Bearing in mind this servile loyalty to Moscow displayed by the Cyprus political establishment over the years, Lavrov felt he was entitled to issue his reprimand. After Crimea’s annexation, President Anastasiades was the only EU leader to accept an invitation from President Putin to attend a big parade in Red Square; three party leaders visited Crimea after its annexation at the invitation of Moscow; the Cyprus legislature passed a resolution calling on the government to work for the lifting of EU sanctions on Russia over Crimea; two party leaders publicly demanded that Russia was given a military base; at the EU Cyprus often argued against the imposition of sanctions. Should we mention how the former ambassador of Russia, until the day he left, was constantly meddling in domestic affairs and issuing directives?

Anastasiades’ response to Lavrov’s reprimand was almost apologetic. He said that at a time a friendly country like Russia “forced us to follow the collective agreements of the EU, it could not have expected that we could have been the stigma of Europe, that is the dissenters on measures that are unanimously agreed.” After expressing his gratitude to Russia “for its unwavering stance on the Cyprus issue”, he said, “there are no choices when international law is violated.” He had to mention Moscow’s stance on the Cyprus issue, which has always been the justification for the Republic’s servility, even though this allegedly principled stance never upset Ankara. It suffices to say that Moscow never condemned the Turkish invasion.

Had the foreign minister of any Western country issued a similar public reprimand and warning to Cyprus there would have been political uproar. The parties would have been urging the government to recall its ambassador, while newspaper columnists would be calling for retaliatory action. Lavrov’s reprimand, in contrast, was greeted by silence, not a single critical word uttered by anyone. It underlined the country’s subservience to Moscow which has not been affected in any way by Russia’s ultra-close political, strategic and economic relations with Turkey, ties that have become even closer since the invasion of Ukraine.

Politicians and other opinion-formers do not see this as a problem, even though Turkey’s recent aggressive rhetoric and daily threats against Greece could be linked to the strong ties developed between Moscow and Ankara which is slowly moving away from the West sphere of influence. The presidential candidates seem oblivious to what is happening and our relations with West and East have not been part of the election debate. Perhaps this is inevitable considering two of the candidates are backed by parties that are openly pro-Moscow on the pretext of the Cyprus problem, and would not like the issue addressed.

But the issue must be addressed, because the world has become as divided as it was during the Cold War era, and Cyprus must make a choice. We cannot play with both sides, as has been the state policy since the time of Makarios. In the new world being shaped, this is unsustainable. We need to ignore Lavrov’s bullying and take our place in the Western group of states.

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