It is with great surprise that I read the other day that Cyprus and Russia have signed an agreement on allowing the use of Cyprus ports by Russian Navy vessels. Not more so than the fact that this agreement was signed by a president which two years ago spoke openly on applying for entry into Partnership for Peace.
First, let us take a look at what was signed. The complete list can be found here (in Greek). It is rather long to be translated for the sake of this article; suffice to say that it includes agreements and memoranda of understanding (MOU) of various subjects ranging from sports to science to political coordination and intelligence exchange. Most of what was signed is updates and continuation of existing agreements and MOUs.
The “hot item” is item #5 (my translation):
Memorandum of Understanding on the Cooperation between the two Ministries of Defence in the Navy Department. The Memorandum anticipates the development of naval cooperation between the Navy of the Republic of Cyprus and the Navy of the Russian Federation. It covers many aspects, among others Search and Rescue (SAR) in the area of Cyprus as well as the provision of facilities at the ports of the Republic.
Russian media, quoting Putin, indicated that the agreement “applies to Russian vessels involved in counter-terrorism and anti-piracy efforts” – no lack of those in the Cyprus area – as well as “The updated agreement envisages the right of Russian warships to visit the ports of Cyprus…for humanitarian purposes such as supply and refueling as well as saving the lives and evacuation of Russian citizens from neighboring states” in the words of Putin.
Russia on the other hand offered some sound financial incentives, with the most immediate being the extension of a €2.5 Billion loan to Cyprus up to 2021 (it was due in 2016) with an almost 50% reduction in the interest rate (2.5% instead of 4.5%).
This is “cracking open the door open a bit”. Officially this is a cooperation agreement between two navies decorated with the Western-favorite catchphrase of anti-terrorism. The catch here is that Cyprus does not have a navy to speak of bar four patrol boats, so with whom the Russian navy will cooperate in blue waters? Moreover, as Cyprus does not have a military naval base the Russian vessels will mainly use the port of Limassol which is a civilian port and the home of an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Russians (a quarter of the city’s population). These facts have already been pointed out by the Cyprus government to beautify the agreement by saying to the EU something along the lines of “look fellas, we allowed them the use of a civilian port, in a city they will really feel like home and to combat terrorism. What is wrong with that?”
Is this what Russia has asked for? Not exactly. Russia does want military bases in the area, especially considering the state of Tartus in Syria. On the other hand, Cyprus as an EU member cannot simply go and outright give everything Russia asked for, not without some more background work at least. I believe that both countries will wait and see how this will work out (and how much pressure Cyprus is due to get) and then move on to touch the really hot potato (for Cyprus) that is the use of Paphos air force base by Russia.