Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 128

Russia’s controversial US$200 million deal to sell S-300 air defense missiles to Cyprus was back in the news over the weekend as Russian reports suggested that delivery of the missiles to Cyprus might be postponed. The deal, which was finalized early last year, has been strongly opposed by Washington on the grounds that it would exacerbate tensions in the region. Turkey, which supports Turkish Cypriot authorities in the northern part of the partitioned island, has vowed to stop deployment of the missiles on Cyprus. Turkish authorities recently stopped a cargo ship suspected of carrying components for the S-300 complexes. (See Monitor, June 16) On July 14, Turkey’s prime minister reiterated Ankara’s determination to block delivery of the missiles to Cyprus. (Xinhua, July 4)

Under the original timetable, delivery of the S-300s to Cyprus was to have begun this month or next. Russian news agencies reported over the weekend, however, that the weapons might not be sent to Cyprus until November. Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Vadim Kuznetsov, was rebuked by the Russian Foreign Ministry on July 4 for public comments he made on July 2 indicating that the postponement had come at the request of Cypriot authorities. Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told reporters that Kuznetsov “was not empowered” to comment on the delivery date for the S-300s. Kuznetsov’s remarks, Rakhmanin said, were “only his subjective opinion.” (Russian agencies, July 4) Kuznetsov had been relieved of his duties by President Boris Yeltsin on July 1 and is to be transferred to another job.

In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry officials appeared to soften their language somewhat with regard to delivery of the S-300s to Cyprus. Russian officials had previously insisted the deal would go forward as planned unless agreement was reached to demilitarize Cyprus. A ministry spokesman said on July 3, however, that the deal might be dropped if “there is a significant breakthrough in reaching a Cyprus settlement and [if] the question of the island’s demilitarized status makes headway.” The same spokesman also suggested that recent talks between Russia and the United States over Cyprus may have produced something of a breakthrough in terms of reaching a settlement on Cyprus. The president of Cyprus, meanwhile, is due to visit Moscow on July 11 in connection with an international sporting event. The Russian spokesman suggested that progress toward reaching a Cyprus settlement might be forthcoming during that visit. (Russian agencies, July 3)