Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 35

Russia and Cyprus have finalized an agreement which will bring Russian S-300 air defense missiles to the Greek island of Crete rather than to Cyprus itself. The accord was signed in Moscow yesterday by Cypriot Defense Minister Yiannakis Chrysostomis and Grigory Rapota, head of the Russian state arms trading company Rosvooruzhenie (AP, Russian agencies, February 18). The new agreement is a compromise aimed at lowering tensions on and around Cyprus. The original deal, which would have brought the S-300s to Cyprus itself last summer, generated fierce criticism–and threats of military action–from Turkey. The United States and the EU also exerted strong pressure on Cyprus to forego deployment of the missiles (see the Monitor, February 18).

Yesterday’s agreement follows several days of talks in the Russian capital, during which Chrysostomis met both with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and with officials from Rosvooruzhenie. According to Russian sources, the S-300s will remain the property of Cyprus even though they are to be delivered to Crete. Greece will control the functioning of the systems. The Russian sources also say that Cyprus has already paid about 90 percent of the contract sum for the missiles, and will pay the remainder following their delivery (Russian agencies, February 16-17).

Russian sources have been unclear as to exactly when delivery of the missiles is to begin. Russian military officials were quoted several days ago as saying that Moscow could begin transporting the missiles to Crete as early as next month. Officials participating in this week’s negotiations, however, indicated that delivery would occur no earlier than the middle of this year (Russian agencies, February 16-17).

Although tensions around Cyprus have eased since Nicosia agreed to forego deployment of the S-300s on the island itself, Turkey has made clear that it also opposes delivery of the missiles to Crete. It is less certain whether Turkey will try to intercept the missiles en route to Crete. Ankara had threatened such interception when the missiles were to have been delivered to Cyprus–a threat which led Russia to keep secret whether transport of the S-300s to Cyprus would occur by air or by sea. In June of last year Turkish authorities seized a Maltese-flagged cargo ship on suspicions that it was carrying spare parts for the S-300 missile complexes. Turkey later released the ship when those suspicions were proved groundless.