Cyprus’s Syrian challenge

Cyprus’s Syrian challenge


By Christos Meliopoulos – Nicosia

The Syrian crisis presents a challenge for all countries in the wider region and Cyprus does definitely not represent an exception. For the island is in danger of finding itself between a rock and a hard place, under entirely opposite requests or actions by allies.

As Foreign Minister Kasoulides admitted, the United Kingdom will not request permission for using its Akrotiri military base as a hub for operations against the Syrian regime, should the British military wish to do so. The fact that Mr Kasoulides made sure that his government will be “informed or consulted with” before any action concerning Cyprus is taken by London, does not hide the fact that Nicosia will remain exposed to diplomatic pressures if planes charging from Akrotiri launch strikes on Syrian targets.

An unintentional involvement of Cyprus in the Syrian operation would make it even harder to deal with a potential Russian request for Cypriot assistance in a counter-operation of supporting the Assad government. The island maintains a special relationship with both the UK and Russia; so who does the government side with and who’s left disaffected?

The dilemma of course would only be set if the Russians made such a request. According to military analysts, despite concerns raised, the huge potential problem of a Russian attempt to immediately get access to a Cypriot port or airport during the Syrian crisis would be considered direct hostile action by the West, so at least at this point should be regarded as a non-existent scenario.

What if the Russians asked Nicosia to prevent military aircrafts supporting or even leading the anti-Syrian operation from taking off from the British bases? Cypriot officials might then start to get concerned over the relations with Moscow, but then again they could just point to the legal status of the bases.

Moreover, commentators in the UK believe that use of the bases would only be required if the military intervention in Syria went on for longer than a few days. Pending decisions and announcements, the feeling is that the USA and the UK will opt for “surgical” missile hits against specific targets for a period of no more than a few days.

In any case, the Cyprus Foreign Ministry under Ioannis Kasoulides has been conducting its business with authority, acting rather than reacting; so any request that might be deemed intentionally provocative and/or further fuelling tension in the eastern Mediterranean would most probably simply be rejected.

Cypriot politicians are also generally concerned that the participation of the bases in the military operations in Syria would turn the island in the eyes of some countries (and tourists) from a pillar of relative stability to a party involved in a regional armed conflict. Nicosia could counterbalance any negative impressions by taking the initiative in evacuating foreigners from Syria. The presence of the bases in Cyprus, however, is a constant risk under such circumstances, as it has been proven in the past in the cases of Iraq or Libya.

As far as Syria is concerned the wisest course of action by Nicosia, as officials have decided, is to stick by the policies and decisions of the United Nations and comply with its international agreements. Any other course of action would undoubtedly affect the relations with some countries, even if temporarily.