As the great powers demonstrate their resolve to crush terrorism and declare their readiness to strike preventively at terrorist bases “anywhere in the world,” some lesser international actors appear ready to take advantage of this strategy. Recently a senior cabinet member from Greek Cyprus accused Turkish Cyprus of harboring Chechen rebels plotting attacks on Russian interests. Northern Cypriot officials called this accusation “paranoia,” but some Russian analysts believe the information should not be ignored.
On September 26, Greek Cyprus Justice Minister Doros Theodorou claimed there are Chechen training camps in the northern — Turkish — part of the divided island. He even suggested that the bandits who participated in the Beslan school siege might have spent some time there. Theodorou also claimed that the local authorities once had information that Chechen terrorists had planned to attack the Russian Embassy in the Republic of Cyprus. Theodorou offered no proof to back up his claims, but asserted, “Our information is clear and from reliable sources.”
“There are Chechens [in Northern Cyprus], as there are also other terrorist groups that are being trained there,” Theodorou told the respected Greek Cypriot newspaper Phileleftheros. He continued, “You realize, of course, that we can only speak in generalities, that we cannot give details. We have information from time to time that known members of the Chechen terrorist network went to the occupied areas [in the north of the island].” Asked if his information concerned only Chechens, the Greek Cypriot minister replied, “We are speaking mainly of Chechens” (Reuters, September 27, Turkish Daily News, September 28).
According to Russian media reports, following his Sunday statement, Theodorou met with the Russian ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus. It would appear, though, that the Russian side is somewhat skeptical about his revelations. Theodorou has made similar disclosures before, only to be contradicted by other members of his government, one Russian diplomat told Izvestiya (September 28.) Western intelligence sources have not suggested there is a foreign military presence in the territory.
The leadership of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus dismissed Theodorou’s statement as “total rubbish.” “It’s an absurd statement, if not sheer paranoia,” Northern Cyprus Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat told Izvestiya. “If they [Greek Cypriots] have any such information and they can pass it on to us, we’ll immediately find and arrest those terrorists.” But, in his opinion, “All this is total rubbish and the result of a paranoid’s thinking.” Such stories, he added, are frequently launched by Greek politicians and Greek media outlets (Izvestiya, September 28).
There appear to be three main reasons why Greek Cypriots launched this latest round of information warfare against their Turkish neighbors. First, the timing of Theodorou’s statement is clearly connected with the recent pledge made by Russia’s top commanders in the wake of the August and September terrorist attacks to wipe out terrorists and their bases wherever they may be. Theodorou appears to have suggested one possible target. Also, some experts note, the contacts that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov established with the leadership of Turkish Cyprus during the Istanbul NATO summit in late June have made Greek Cypriots wary. The Republic of Cyprus has a long history of friendly relationship with Moscow based on strategic, economic, and religious ties. According to one commentary, the Russian Foreign Minister’s perceived encouragement towards Turkish Cyprus has likely made Greek Cypriot leadership uneasy (Russky kuryer, September 28).
Second, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is reportedly planning to launch a new bid to settle the long-running Cyprus conflict. The latest attempt at the settlement, based on the so-called “Annan Plan,” was frustrated by the negative results of the Greek Cypriot referendum in April. The majority of Turkish Cypriots support the Annan Plan. Now, the Greek Cypriot administration is trying, as the Turkish Cyprus Prime Minister Talat put it, “to smear Turkish Cypriots” and strengthen their own bargaining position in the run-up to a possible new round of talks.
Finally, on September 27, the United States asked Greece to reclaim weapons that it had recently handed over to Greek Cyprus. A U.S. State Department spokesman said Athens had violated a mutual weapons purchase after buying them from America and giving them to Greek Cypriots (Anadolu, September 28.) The alleged danger posed by Chechen terrorists holed up in the northern part of the island may somehow justify the possession of weapons needed “for self-defense.”
Yet some Russian analysts contend that the statement by the Greek Cypriot official should not be taken lightly. “It’s no secret that immigrants from the North Caucasus have firmly established themselves in the northern part of Cyprus,” says the deputy director of the Moscow-based Institute of Oriental Studies, Anatoly Yegorin. He referred, in particular, to the widow of Chechnya’s first president, Djokhar Dudayev, who, reportedly, visited Turkish Cyprus and did not deny that Chechen rebel fighters rested and trained there. “Indeed, all sorts of things can take place in the villas occupied by the [North Caucasus] immigrants,” suggests Yegorin. The scholar advised the Putin government to raise this issue directly with Ankara (Russky kuryer, September 28.) Turkey is the only country that officially recognized the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.