The two agreements Nicos Christodoulides, as foreign minister, signed with the Russian Federation, in October 2021, are a sad reflection of the Anastasiades government’s policy of keeping Moscow happy. The agreements were signed, at the same time Russia was building up its troops on its borders with Ukraine and serious concerns being expressed in the West about the possibility of an invasion.
Was the Anastasiades government so beholden to Moscow that it ignored the brewing international crisis between Russia and the West, which included the EU? This was not all. The agreement ‘on cooperation with the Russian Federation for humanitarian operations’ was in effect licence for the army and navy to use Cyprus, using ‘humanitarian operations’ as the pretext for allowing warships to dock in Cyprus ports and military aircraft to use the airports. Under this humanitarian agreement we were also obliged to provide “safe storage of dangerous goods transferred by the sending state.”
The agreement on humanitarian cooperation was not given any publicity when Christodoulides signed it, presumably because it showed utter disregard for the Menendez-Rubio ‘Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act’ of 2019, which put Cyprus-US relations a stronger footing and would open the way for the lifting of the US arms embargo. One of the provisions of the Act was for countries like Cyprus, “to terminate existing agreements granting Russian naval vessels access to ports.” With the ‘humanitarian’ agreement, the Cyprus government would also allow Russian military planes to use airports and military personnel to move freely.
Was the government under the impression it could fool the US by claiming this was an agreement on humanitarian cooperation? And what was the role of Christodoulides as foreign minister in this? He could have persuaded Anastasiades that it would not be in the country’s interest to sign such an agreement. Ioannis Kasoulides, as foreign minister, in 2014, took a stand against the signing of a military cooperation agreement that Moscow was demanding and, when Anastasiades visited Moscow the following year he signed a memorandum of military cooperation instead, which is not binding.
Christodoulides saw no reason to oppose the 2021 agreement, showing either a complete lack of political judgment or, worse still, a desire to obey Moscow’s diktats, irrespective of the damage this would do to relations with the US and the EU. Brussels would not have been happy with the signing of the ‘Framework of Strategic Cooperation’ by Christodoulides, on the same visit. This envisaged the two countries cooperating on “development of technology, on the digitalisation of information, social networks and combating misinformation.” The addition of this in the ‘framework’ was a violation of EU decisions on cyber security aimed at defending the Union from Russia’s hybrid war. Cyprus would be ‘combating misinformation’ with the country that was the main source of anti-EU misinformation.
It was fortunate that Christodoulides stepped down before he could put the humanitarian cooperation agreement into force. The internal procedures that must be finalised before the agreement is ratified have not been completed, and this is unlikely to happen while Kasoulides is minister. In fact, Kasoulides arranged the ban of Russian ships from Cyprus ports, immediately after the invasion of Ukraine, more than a month before the EU took such a decision. This showed that Anastasiades’ pro-Russia policies could be stopped when the foreign minister is not beholden to Moscow.