Cyprus becomes a Cold War snack, as Russian bear bites
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
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