RUSSIA BARGES INTO THE EU TENT
- RUSSIAN-CYPRIOT military cooperation
- MIDDLE EASTERN Troika: GREECE, CYPRUS and RUSSIA
- MIDDLE EASTERN energy games
The significance of the agreement recently signed in MOSCOW to let RUSSIAN navy ships anchor at ports in CYPRUS may lend itself to exaggerated notions of a military pact between the two countries, which it certainly is not. On the other hand, the profound meaning of the agreement in political terms – and the visit of CYPRIOT President NICOS ANASTASIADES to MOSCOW – cannot be lost on WASHINGTON and the EUROPEAN capitals, especially BRUSSELS where the EUROPEAN UNION is headquartered.
In strategic terms, the deal doesn’t mean that RUSSIA is about to establish naval bases in CYPRUS. The agreement merely provides legal underpinning to the RUSSIAN navy ships making regular port calls at CYPRUS. In military terms, however, RUSSIAN navy is getting such access on an assured basis at a time when its only maintenance base happens to be TARTUS, SYRIA, which is caught up in deep turmoil with no end in view. Simply put, the BLACK SEA Fleet’s MEDITERRANEAN operations will be on a sound footing with the backup in CYPRUS.
RUSSIAN-CYPRIOT MILITARY COOPERATION
Equally, RUSSIA is establishing military cooperation with a country where BRITAIN maintains a military base. There are reports that CHINA too may be talking with CYPRUS for similar facilities as RUSSIA has secured.
However, much more than RUSSIAN-CYPRIOT military cooperation is involved here. ANASTASIADES’S MOSCOW visit also has a huge geopolitical backdrop where many crosscurrents are at work. For a start, CYPRUS is an EU member country and it is deepening its ties with RUSSIA, which happens to be currently the target of EU sanctions. ANASTASIADES, in fact, has defiantly questioned the rationale of western sanctions against RUSSIA.
CYPRUS has become the second EU member state – after President VLADIMIR PUTIN’S visit to HUNGARY – to publicly display its dissent and resentment regarding the US-sponsored western sanctions against RUSSIA. Like HUNGARY – nay, much more than HUNGARY – CYPRUS has strong reasons to be treasuring its cooperation with RUSSIA.
Around 80% of foreign investment in CYPRUS is RUSSIAN. MOSCOW gave a big hand to help CYPRUS see through its financial crisis – giving a 2.5 billion euro loan in 2011 (and this week cutting its annual interest rate from 4.5% to 2.5% besides extending the redemption period from 2016 to 2018-2021) apart from helping CYPRUS organize successfully its first issue of sovereign CYPRUS Eurobonds since the crisis for 750 million euros. It is estimated that the money flows from RUSSIA to CYPRUS exceeds $200 billion during the period 1994-2011. The quality of the RUSSIAN-CYPRIOT relationship becomes evident in PUTIN’S remarks to the media in Moscow while welcoming ANASTASIADES.
MIDDLE EASTERN TROIKA: GREECE, CYPRUS AND RUSSIA
The bottom line here is that it will be an uphill task for WASHINGTON in the period ahead to rally the EU member countries behind the US’ containment strategy against RUSSIA. The emergence of a leftist government in GREECE (which mentors CYPRUS), which is credited with strong links to RUSSIAN ideologues, already irritates WASHINGTON. HUNGARY and GREECE also happen to be NATO member countries.
So indeed is TURKEY, which has also edged closer to MOSCOW in the recent years almost in direct proportion to the strains that have appeared in the discourse between WASHINGTON and ANKARA. Indeed, at a closer look, a matrix of great complexity is appearing, which would suggest that snapping the umbilical cords that tie ‘post-SOVIET’ RUSSIA with EUROPE is going to be a Herculean task for the US diplomacy.
This is not for want of trying, as the latest US-backed endeavor by the EU bureaucracy to integrate the bloc’s energy market with the singular intention to ‘centralize’ and control RUSSIA’S energy ties with individual member states testifies. But the short point is that RUSSIA has become an avid globalizer, beating the US in its own game, and it intends to remain that way.
MIDDLE EASTERN ENERGY GAMES
Coming back to the RUSSIAN-CYPRIOT partnership, some other templates of regional politics also need to be noted. First, energy ties. CYPRUS is sitting on vast untapped reserves of natural gas in its offshore fields in the eastern MEDITERRANEAN. RUSSIAN oil companies are hoping to wade into CYPRUS’ energy sector, which is presently dominated by AMERICAN companies. ANASTASIAS has apparently invited RUSSIAN energy companies to move in.
Now, CYPRUS’ gas fields are contiguous to SYRIA’S economic zone, which also are credited with untapped hydrocarbon reserves. CYPRIOT and ISRAELI gas fields are also overlapping – like QATAR and IRAN. The evacuation of CYPRIOT gas to EUROPE would be an AMERICAN priority with a view to reducing EUROPE’S dependence on RUSSIA. On the other hand, the ideal pipeline route from CYPRUS would be via TURKEY with which CYPRUS has no relations following the occupation of northern CYPRUS by TURKEY in 1974. WASHINGTON is keenly encouraging TURKISH-CYPRIOT reconciliation – talks resumed in early February following a two-year break – but the public opinion in CYPRUS strongly militates against accepting TURKEY’S presence in NORTHERN CYPRUS. The deadlock is difficult to break.
Which would prompt RUSSIA to step in as an energy partner for CYPRUS. RUSSIA is also pressing ahead talks with TURKEY regarding a new gas pipeline via the BLACK SEA (replacing the South Stream which MOSCOW has summarily abandoned) leading to the countries of southeastern EUROPE. Clearly, energy politics of the eastern MEDITERRANEAN region is surging and RUSSIA has a finger in almost every pie.
All in all, having secured a strong position on the ground in UKRAINE, RUSSIA is returning to the world stage to pick the threads where it left them. The recent visit by Putin to EGYPT and ANASTASIADES’S visit to MOSCOW signal that RUSSIAN diplomacy is neither in defensive mode nor is RUSSIA bogged down in a quagmire in UKRAINE.