Syria, Russia and Cyprus: Putin Exercises His Clout

By Robbin Laird

We have argued earlier that the Russians are seeking to expand their influence on both sides of the Mediterranean.

The concurrency of the Euro and Syrian crises provides them with a window to expand this effort.

The Russians have offered to assist in the restructuring of the debt in Cyprus concurrent with an agreement for Cyprus to not allow its territory to be used to launch strikes against Syria.

I guess this another case of what the White House characterized as the Russians not understanding their own interests in Syria.

My colleague Harald Malmgren brought this to our attention and discussions with two senior European diplomats confirm that this seems to be the case.

A recent web posting outlined what the analyst to be the case at the end of August.

Yesterday afternoon, Russia agreed to restructure Cyprus’ EUR 2.5 billion loan terms to a much more affordable 2.5% semi-annual coupon through 2016 and a principal re-payment over the following four years. While probably still out of reach for the desparate economy, it was a positive step. Of course, this ‘offer’ by Russia has its quid pro quo. This morning, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides has stated that Cyprus territory will not be used to launch military strikes against Syria, as “Cyprus wants to live up to its responsibility as a shelter if needed for nationals of friendly countries who evacuate from Middle East”. It would appear Obama’s influence is fading everywhere…

Cyprus is located ~183 nautical miles west of Syria and is the EU member nearest to Syria.

The Russian government has endorsed restructuring of the terms of the Russian loan to Cyprus, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told reporters Friday.

“The restructuring was endorsed at the last meeting of the Cabinet,” he said

Cyprus is to repay a EUR 2.5bn loan to Russia in eight semiannual installments starting in 2016, Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak told reporters today, citing a revision of repayment terms approved at the latest cabinet meeting. The interest rate was lowered to 2.5% from 4.5%.

Russia extended the loan in 2011 for 4.5 years. Cyprus UK Bases (via Bloomberg)

The U.K. has 2 sovereign bases on Cyprus; and despite its vote against a strike, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said today 6 RAF Typhoon interceptor fast jets deploying to British base at Akrotiri in Cyprus as precautionary measure “to protect British bases on island” Cyprus Refugee Camp (via Bloomberg)

Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides says his country is prepared for any influx of foreign nationals in the event of military action against Syria, in comments to reporters in Nicosia today. Cyprus can accept up to 10,000 people daily on basis they remain for 48 hours before repatriation (Cyprus received more than 40,000 evacuees from Lebanon after 2 weeks fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters in 2006). Cyprus Refuses To Allow Strikes From Its Territory against Syria (via Bloomberg)

Cyprus assured its territory won’t be used to launch military strikes against Syria, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said, according to a transcript of his comments posted on govt’s press-office website

Kasoulides commented that “Cyprus wants to live up to its responsibility as a shelter if needed for nationals of friendly countries who evacuate from Middle East”

The official statement by the government of Cyprus makes it clear that there is a territorial use opt it in place:

The Government of Cyprus has repeatedly expressed its grave concern about the use of chemical weapons against the friendly people of Syria, including innocent civilians and even against women and children. Our reaction becomes even stronger when this happens in such proximity to our country. The loss of 1429 lives, including 426 children in the last attack in Damascus, constitutes a crime against humanity. It is unreservedly condemned. Such a heinous act, cannot be without consequences.

Undoubtedly, use of chemical weapons has occurred. The designation of the responsible side does not fall under the mandate of the UN fact-finding mission. Nonetheless, the Syrian regime is accountable for the fact that it is producing, stockpiling, and it is in a position to mixture chemical weapons, in violation of customary international and humanitarian law, including the Chemical Weapons Convention. If the Syrian regime had proceeded to destroy such weapons, in the presence of observers of the relevant international organizations, it would not have to prove that is not responsible of their recent massive use.

Whatever happens, the Geneva II Process must be safeguarded, in order to seek a political solution to the wider problem.

Cyprus, as a country of stability, peace and security in the region, stands ready to live up to its responsibility as a shelter, in case needed, in order to evacuate nationals of friendly countries from the Middle East. Cyprus would like to safeguard this capacity; to that end, we have received assurances that the territory of Cyprus will not be used for military strikes.


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