Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 222

Questions marks hanging over a controversial missile deal between Russia and Cyprus have increased in recent days while political authorities in Cyprus and Greece send mixed signals about delivery of the missiles. The latest chapter in the long dispute over the deployment of Russian S-300 air defense missiles in Cyprus began last week during a Greek-Cyprus summit in Athens. Afterwards there were reports that the Greek government had both indicated its disapproval of the missile deal and restated a proposal that the S-300s be deployed not on Cyprus, as planned, but on the Greek island of Crete.

Cypriot President Glavcos Clerides reportedly turned down the Greek proposal. The Cypriot foreign minister, moreover, was quoted on November 28 as saying that Cyprus would deploy the missiles despite Turkish threats and Greek disapproval. Then, a day later, a high-ranking Greek diplomat denied any rift between Nicosia and Athens on the issue at all. The diplomat’s explanation that the two countries were working together to ensure the defense of Cyprus, however, appeared to sidestep the question of where the S-300s would actually be deployed. Finally, Clerides denied on November 3 that Greece had even made the proposal to station the missiles on Crete rather than on Cyprus. According to a Russian report from Paris on the same day, however, visiting Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos told French diplomats that Athens had not ruled out stationing the missiles on Crete (AP, November 28, December 1; Xinhua, November 29; Russian agencies, November 30).

The S-300 deal, finalized by Russia and Cyprus in January of last year, has raised tensions sharply on a number of fronts. Turkey vehemently opposes delivery of the missiles to Cyprus, and has warned that it might take military measures to stop their deployment. That threat has caused some anxiety in Athens, which has a joint defense pact with Cyprus and would be dragged into any conflict between Turkey and Cyprus. Government leaders in Athens are also concerned that a conflict arising now as a result of the missile deal could adversely affect Greece’s relations with the European Union. Meanwhile, both the EU and the United States have condemned the S-300 deal on the grounds that it is likely to exacerbate the already considerable tensions in the region (AP, November 28, December 1).

Russia, for its part, has dismissed such objections, and has insinuated that they stem in large part from efforts by Washington to nix a major arms deal for a Russian missile-maker. Russian leaders have also described the S-300 as a purely defensive system which would not threaten the military balance in the region. More broadly, Moscow seems to have taken some satisfaction in the fact that the S-300 deal has worsened relations between NATO members Greece and Turkey, and has thus introduced new tensions into the Western alliance. Moscow is likewise not averse to complicating life for Turkey itself, which is seen increasingly by Moscow as a geostrategic rival.

Delivery of the S-300s to Cyprus was originally to have begun in August of this year, but was later postponed to November. Although Russia has said it is ready to deliver the complexes, the date of their arrival in Cyprus–or in Crete for that matter–remains unknown. It is probably still the subject of discussion (see the Monitor, October 8; November 9).