Cyprus be­comes a Cold War snack, as Rus­sian bear bites

Just Words...

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - CYPRUS - By Char­lie Char­alam­bous

In­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics is a bit like the school play­ground, the big boys beat up the vul­ner­a­ble and ex­tort their pocket money, while the weak seek to make al­liances with the tough guys to avoid be­ing kicked down the stairs.

One has to learn very quickly how to avoid trou­ble by ei­ther stay­ing out of sight or mak­ing your­self pop­u­lar so the al­liances you make cre­ate a bar­rier to be­ing picked on.

Cyprus is un­der the im­pres­sion that it can walk around the school­yard be­tween all the frater­nising gangs and go about its busi­ness un­scathed.

Un­for­tu­nately, that isn’t go­ing to fly be­cause your new friend might be some­body else’s en­emy and there’s no free pass in the war­zone of the school­yard, the same goes for diplo­macy.

Ni­cosia likes to paint it­self as a bridge builder where its neu­tral sta­tus gives it an in­flu­en­tial role in the Arab world that helps it strad­dle a frac­tious re­gion where Tur­key, Rus­sia and the US also want a say.

It has cul­ti­vated a friend­ship with Egypt and Is­rael as it plays the en­ergy se­cu­rity card, while con­vinc­ing Wash­ing­ton it can be a use­ful ally in the eastern Mediter­ranean.

Cyprus is getting in­volved in var­i­ous en­ergy projects and pump­ing up its de­fence ca­pa­bil­ity by par­tic­i­pat­ing in joint war games with Is­rael, Egypt and France.

This is like the lit­tle guy wav­ing his hands around in the play­ground at­tract­ing at­ten­tion to him­self, so the bul­lies don’t have far to look for their next vic­tim.

There is noth­ing wrong about be­ing am­bi­tious on the diplo­matic stage, but Cyprus should try and stay un­der the radar be­cause it has enough prob­lems at home which it is un­able to solve.

It didn’t take long for the Rus­sian bear to start is­su­ing veiled threats in undiplo­matic lan­guage to shake Ni­cosia out of its delu­sions of grandeur.

Cyprus was getting too close to the White House for Moscow’s lik­ing, es­pe­cially with the ap­point­ment of a mil­i­tary at­taché to Wash­ing­ton and sign­ing a se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment that un­der­scored a warmer re­la­tion­ship.

As a small state, Cyprus is used to be­ing ig­nored apart from the bel­li­cose rum­blings com­ing out of Ankara, so for our friends the Rus­sians to ba­si­cally say “watch your step or else” was a shock to the sys­tem.

You could make a Hol­ly­wood movie out of the CyprusRus­sia bro­mance, where the Cypri­ots washed their dirty laun­dry un­til the bank­ing sys­tem im­ploded and it was all lost in the hair­cut.

De­spite the mishaps, a last­ing friend­ship grew as long as it was a re­la­tion­ship where Cyprus was solely de­pen­dent on the benev­o­lent na­ture of Moscow and did as it was told.

And for a while, it worked. The money was com­ing in, favours were re­turned at the UN, while the Amer­i­cans were just down­right nasty about Cyprus be­ing a haven for dodgy Rus­sian oli­garchs.

But Cyprus wanted to be part of a new world or­der where any­thing was pos­si­ble, even Tur­key com­ing to its senses.

It now wanted to be a re­gional ac­tor be­fit­ting a na­tion of un­tapped en­ergy wealth. To com­plete the makeover, it needed to per­suade Amer­ica that it could be a friend with ben­e­fits.

These are not the sort of moves that Rus­sia wants to see, es­pe­cially a Rus­sia that would love to bring back the chill­ing cer­tainty of the Cold War where ‘Them and Us’ re­ally meant some­thing.

The gov­ern­ment has tried to hide its blushes, phoned up the Krem­lin to make it right and said the case was now closed. Re­ally?

If Moscow felt the need to fire a frosty broad­side at one of its few friends in the Euro­pean Union over a state­ment of in­tent for closer co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the US and Cyprus, then rest as­sured it won’t hes­i­tate to roll out the heavy diplo­matic ar­tillery again.

Cyprus said it was deeply

con­cerned

over

base­less Rus­sian claims that the US mil­i­tary was seek­ing a foothold on the is­land.

Moscow warned ear­lier this week that such a move would trig­ger a Rus­sian re­sponse and re­sult in “dan­ger­ous and desta­bil­is­ing con­se­quences”.

What re­tal­i­a­tion Rus­sia has in mind is un­clear, un­less it fan­cies an­nex­ing the rest of the is­land to match up with Tur­key.

In its ag­gres­sive stance to­ward Cyprus, Rus­sia, like Tur­key, has shown a lack of re­spect for the in­de­pen­dence of the Repub­lic as a sov­er­eign state.

The last time I looked it had never been part of the Soviet Union nor is it close to Ukraine.

Maria Zakharova, a spokesper­son for Rus­sia’s Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs, said on Wed­nes­day Moscow had be­come aware of what she called “anti-Rus­sian plans” in­volv­ing Cyprus and the US mil­i­tary which she said was eye­ing set­ting up for­ward op­er­at­ing bases for its troops there.

“We’re getting in­for­ma­tion from var­i­ous sources that the United States is ac­tively study­ing op­tions to build up its mil­i­tary pres­ence on Cyprus,” Zakharova told a news brief­ing.

The US State Depart­ment said the Rus­sian claims of a mil­i­tary build-up is “char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally ab­surd”.

Cyprus has been duly warned that play­ing with the se­niors has con­se­quences and they will be wait­ing for you when school’s out.

Pres­i­dent Ni­cos Anas­tasi­ades on board a Rus­sian air­craft carrier an­chored near Li­mas­sol port

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