Russia has succeeded in creating a closer relationship with Cyprus by signing a military deal giving Russia’s navy ships access to Cyprus’ Mediterranean ports. As part of the deal, which was made on February 25th, Russian ships will dock at the ports and will mainly be used for international anti-terrorism and piracy efforts, according to media reports.

The agreement, allowing Russian naval ships regular access to the island country’s ports, was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and president of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades. However, while the two countries celebrate this victory of creating a tighter bond with one another, the West and its allies could see this move Russia has taken as alarming. Since the US, UK, and European Union’s relationship with Russia has gone downhill since the Ukraine crisis, Russia has been making deals with China, India, Turkey, and now Cyprus in order to keep its global presence high and its partnerships with other countries solid.

It is fair to say that Russia has been expanding by starting in the East and now moving its focus to the Mediterranean. Let’s take a moment to backtrack at how Russia has been winning over different leaders by making deals that were probably hard proposals to reject. In November, Russia signed its second biggest deal in 2014 with China related to energy—with its earlier gas deal with China worth close to $400 billion. Many have seen this move as a way of telling the EU, in a very clear-cut way that Russia has other customers interested in purchasing its gas and it does not have to rely on the EU to be its main gas consumer.

China is not the only country to reap the benefits of dealing with Russia. According to Russia & India Report, India signed 16 agreements with Russia as of December 2014. The deals were made at the 15th annual Indo-Russian bilateral summit. At least 12 new power plants will be built throughout India over the next 20 years as part of the agreement—among various other pacts the two larger than life countries made with each other.

During the same month, Russia made a deal with Turkey to build the South Stream in Turkey—now officially called the Turkish Stream. Already, the project is in the execution phase, according to the Russia energy giant GazProm. The pipeline will carry gas from Russia to Turkey, with a capacity to hold up to 63 billion cubic meters of gas from one end of the pipe to the other.

“The gas transmission route will be laid via the Black Sea and will annually supply up to 47 billion cubic meters of gas to the Turkish-Greece border. The gas pipeline will represent an alternative export route, which, in combination with the highly-reliable Nord Stream, Blue Stream and Yamal-Europe gas pipelines, will secure the entirety of Russian gas exports beyond the CIS and make it possible to abandon the transit corridor via Ukraine,” GazProm said, as reported by Turkish news outlet Hurriyet Daily News in late February.

These are just a few very recent examples of how Russia has been making its rounds throughout the world to ensure it has more allies than enemies. The Russian Federation has spent much of the last few months of 2014 creating great partnerships with countries that have progressed but still have plenty of potential to develop into very prosperous nations.

Moving forward to 2015, it is clear to see that Russia has shifted its attention to the Mediterranean region, in particular Cyprus. As it has been noted, the deal Russia and Cyprus has signed is very important in more ways than one. While the deal has been made, with some of its initiatives being to clamp down on terrorism and piracy being solid reasons to make the agreements, it still is likely the deal will not sit well with Cyprus’ EU counterparts. “It seems that the current agreement will rather be greeted with suspicion by important players of the international community, since ties between the West and Russia have plummeted in the wake of the Ukraine crisis,” Vasileios P. Karakasis, a PhD candidate at the University of Leiden said to Mediterranean Affairs. In other words, the international players, especially those invested in Cyprus, may be worrying what Russia could be up to with this agreement. Other nations could be wondering if much more serious deals are to be inked between the Eastern Mediterranean country and the Russian Federation in the near future.

While not all countries will be against this agreement between the two, there will be a good handful of nations that will not applaud the signed deal. “More particularly, the UK, the US and Germany are awaited to grapple with this agreement under a prism of suspicion while France is expected to keep a more ambivalent stance,” Karakasis, who is also a research associate and course coordinator at Sen Foundation for Research and Education on International Cooperation, and Project Lead of the “Cyprus Issue” at Bridging Europe, added to his analysis of the Russia-Cyprus deal.

The United Kingdom is well-invested in Cyprus due to its retaining of two sovereign bases in Akrotiri and Dhekelia as per the 1960 Treaty of Independence. In particular, these bases are used a lot by Western military and intelligence forces en route to Middle Eastern countries. “The military deal might put their interest on the island in jeopardy,” stated Karakasis, “Therefore, the whole issue has been projected on the House of Lords to be discussed on Tuesday, 10.3.15.” Since there is no telling if the new deal between Cyprus and Russia will halt any other operations by foreign entities, it is a waiting game for most. For those who cannot wait on what will happen to the ports or if disruptive actions will be caused due to Russia’s presence there, it is more of a guessing game of trying to figure out which move is best to take and when.

It is believed the motives that are driving Russia are one of many. Russian involvement on the island nation did not just happen overnight. Not only is Cyprus situated in a strategic location, it is also a country that is not landlocked—in other words it is surrounded by water, which makes transport key here. Russia, like other countries, has fine-tuned their interest in Cyprus due to its place on the map and its easy transport from port to port. Karakasis says this in a more detailed description, “The island is situated on the sea lane of the great maritime highway which links the Mediterranean Sea with two sea gates, the Suez on the one hand and Bab al-Mandab with the Indian Ocean on the other. From there it is connected with two other sea gates, the Strait of Hormuz which ends at the Persian Gulf, and the Strait of Malacca of the Pacific.” The majority of imports originating from the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the Persian Gulf must go through these key parts. It is believed that around 40% of the EU’s oil comes from the Persian Gulf and therefore must pass through these key points in order to arrive at their final destination.

Yet another reason why Russia has put its eyes on Cyprus is due to economic interests. In fact, as Karakasis puts it, “the pursuit of financial security made many Russians open offshore accounts and accounts in Cyprus banks—gaining a significant share in Cyprus’ banking system.” While this is well-noted, it is worth mentioning that an estimated 50,000 Russians from the Soviet era are living in Cyprus, with a dense Russian population residing in Limassol. The Cyprus bailout of 2013, executed by the EU, is a clear-cut example of how financially troubled the country was already in. What the country really needs pumped into its economic model is development. To be more specific, it needs new businesses that will offer steady work—Cyprus’ unemployment rate was 16.10% as of January 2015 according to data on ycharts.com. Last January (2014), it was only 15.70%, a clear increase in unemployment can be seen in the statistical data. Cyprus needs fresh projects and sometimes in order for progress to happen, the Eastern Mediterranean country needs to make deals with outside nations, such as Russia. Perhaps this deal is just the tipping point for Cyprus, a country that may have other plans for expansion with its neighboring countries. However, Cyprus seems fine with the fact that Russia is offering them a deal that would allow the former Soviet Union to use its ports.

Earlier in 2015, Cyprus’ neighbor, Greece, was put in the spotlight by Russia. Foreign minister of Russia, Sergei Lavrov, stated in one way or another that if Greece asked for financial assistance from Russia, it would be considered. In response, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras refused taking any form of financial aid from Russia. During the Greek Prime Minister’s very first official foreign visit to Cyprus, he said Greece and Cyprus needed to cooperate to form a “bridge of peace and cooperation between Europe and Russia,” Reuters reported, as stated by International Business Times.

Still, if Russia’s deal with Cyprus runs smoothly and both parties stay satisfied, there is no telling if Greece will change its mind regarding making its own deals with Russia. This especially would seem to ring true if Greece saw Cyprus progressing thanks to help from Russia. For now, Cyprus seems quite content with the deal and so does Russia. Only public reactions from other nations will be clear indicators over whether they agree with the Russia-Cyprus deal or disagree with it altogether.

 

SARAH NEARY
Freelance Journalist

Find out more about Energy Security in the Mediterranean, Euro-Mediterranean Cooperation on Energy or Challenges and Priorities of Energy Security.