Cypriot President Comes to Moscow: Russia’s Growing Presence in Mediterranean

Cypriot President Comes to Moscow: Russia’s Growing Presence in Mediterranean

On February 25, Russia and Cyprus signed an agreement on military-technical cooperation during the Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades’ official visit to Russia. In particular, it envisages the use of airports and seaports of the Republic by Russian warplanes and warships in humanitarian operations and emergencies, as well as anti-terrorist operations.

The Russian Air Force will use the air base Andreas Papandreou, along with the international airport of Paphos in the southwest of the island. The Russian Navy will be able to permanently use the base of Limassol, the port bordering on the British air base of Akrotiri, which serves NATO operations and is also an important hub in the electronic military surveillance system of the alliance. Limasol has already hosted Russian warships starting from 2013, including those participating in the operation to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons and taking part in the Aden Gulf mission off the coast of Somalia. Now the port calls will be made on regular basis according to legally established procedures.

The military agreement is of special importance as sea bed gas deposits have been recently discovered in the eastern Mediterranean. Russia is to take part in the exploration and production process. Israel (which has flatly refused to joint anti-Russia sanctions), Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey and Syria are all interested in the project and have corresponding security concerns to address.

For Russia, this is just the latest news of a budding military alliance. Over the year, Russia has been increasing its military cooperation with non-NATO members, including China, India, North Korea and Iran. But the Mediterranean region has acquired special importance recently.

On February 3, Greece’s Defence Minister and outspoken “Eurosceptic” Panos Kammenos announced that he was invited to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu in the near future with the concrete date to be fixed soon. Greece is a NATO member, an organization that perceives Russia as a potential threat. Still, Athens and Moscow appear to be on the way to forming an alliance. On Feb.3, Kammenos met with the Russian Ambassador to Greece. “The discussion with the ambassador of Russia, Mr. Maslov, was also about the pending agreements between the Ministries of National Defence of Greece and Russia, the capabilities of a strategic cooperation, the organisation of the year of Greek-Russian friendship in 2016 which will take place in Greece and in Russia. I received an invitation by Russia’s Minister of Defence to visit Moscow within the next period of time,” Kammenos wrote on the Ministry of Defense website. The new Greek government has on occasion been openly critical of both the EU and NATO. Greece has come under harsh criticism from some European partners over its stance towards Russia at a time of escalating tension over Ukraine. 

On February 10, Russia and Egypt signed several agreements to reinforce military and economic ties. The agreements capped a two-day visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The use of naval faculty, most probably in Alexandria, by Russian ships is an issue on the agenda. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov mentioned such a possibility in his interview to Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

As the Libya’s branch of the self-proclaimed Islamic State beheaded Egyptians in mid-February, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin sent a message of condolence to his Egyptian counterpart and reiterated that “Russia is ready for the closest cooperation with Egypt in fighting all forms of terrorist threat”. Vitaly Churkin, permanent representative of Russia in the U.N. Security Council, doesn’t exclude Russia’s participation in the international coalition in Libya. (3) Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a telephone conversation with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry on February 16 confirmed Moscow’s readiness to act in concert with Cairo in the issues of counteracting terrorism threat.

Thus the possibility of Russia’s involvement in the international efforts to counter the radical organization is no longer ephemeral, but a real one. The Islamic State-connected forces in Libya have intensified their activities recently. The group has its people among boat refugees going to Italian shore (just 350 km to cross). It’s not without reason this country calls for an international effort to intervene in Libya.

Italian PM Matteo Renzi will visit Moscow in early March. Russia’s joining the international coalition against the Islamic State is on the agenda. Italy wants Russia to take part. The EU-imposed anti-Russia sanctions are hardly timely and helpful for the dialogue on the hot issue.

In theory Russia’s contribution could be of great value without exaggeration. Moscow could provide intelligence information and personnel training and arms supplies, especially as the internationally recognized Libyan government asked the UN for military aid. Russia has a group of ships in the Mediterranean which could carry out the mission of patrolling the Libyan shore to prevent illegal weapons supplies to terrorists.

There is something very important Russia has already done in concrete terms. On February 12, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2199 on curbing the revenues that terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq are getting from trade in oil and oil products. The document includes provisions aimed at curbing other sources of terrorist incomes, including the smuggling of precious metals, antiquities and cultural values from Iraq and Syria. The draft resolution was initiated by the Russian Federation and was co-sponsored by over 50 states. Russia hopes that all members of the international community will strictly abide by the provisions of the resolution with the international cooperation carried out on the basis of international legal standards.

The visit of Cypriot President has proven again that the affirmations about Russia being internationally isolated hold no water - it’s nothing but idle talk. To the contrary, Russia’s foreign policy has achieved important successes recently, take President Putin’s visit to Hungary of February 16-17 or the visit to Egypt on February 9-10, to name a few. Russia has a very important role to play in providing security in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Anyone who is impartial can see that the situation creep makes its role ever more critical for tackling the burning problems of the region spreading to Europe and involving the USA. This is the time for intensive and constructive dialogue, not sanctions war.