Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 34

Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops invaded the island in 1974 following a coup attempt by Greek-Cypriot supporters of a union with Greece. A break-away Turkish-Cypriot state on the northern part of the island has been recognized only by Ankara, which maintains more than 30,000 troops there. Following the 1993 election of Cypriot President Glavcos Clerides, Greece and Cyprus established a “joint defense doctrine,” which includes a Greek commitment to defend Cyprus in the event of a conflict with Turkey.

The United States supports a UN plan to reunite the two Cypriot communities, but talks aimed at attaining that result have bogged down badly over the past year. The Russian-Cypriot missile deal, which was consummated in January of 1997, has been a factor in that process. Turkey warned that it would stop deployment of the Russian-made S-300 missile complexes on Cyprus–with the use of military force if necessary. The United States and the European Union (EU), meanwhile, called for cancellation of the missile deal to avoid further inflaming tensions on the islands.

The possibility that delivery of the missiles to Cyprus could harm relations between the EU and both Cyprus and Greece helped convince government leaders in Athens that the Greek-Cypriots should rethink the missile deal. The fear that delivery of the missiles could precipitate a Turkish attack on Cyprus–which would then obligate Greece to respond–was also a factor in pushing Greece to pressure Nicosia into altering the deal. On February 8 Greek and Cypriot officials announced that the Russian-made missiles, which were originally to have been delivered to Cyprus last summer, would be delivered instead to the Greek island of Crete. Although Turkey made clear its opposition to that option as well, tensions in the region have to some degree abated since the announcement.

Throughout the months of acrimony which surrounded the missile deal, Russia continued to insist that delivery of the S-300s would not alter the military balance on Cyprus and that Moscow and Nicosia had every right to follow through on the deal. Moscow also charged, moreover, that U.S. opposition to the deal was based not on any real concerns about stability in the region, but on an unwillingness to see Russia finalize a sale of the S-300s to a Western country. Moscow has offered the S-300s as an alternative to U.S.-made Patriot missiles, and would dearly like to sell the missiles to NATO member states.

The S-300 deal with Cyprus appeared designed to accomplish another of Moscow’s broader foreign policy goals as well: to sow discord among NATO members. By inflaming tensions between traditional rivals Greece and Turkey, Russia appeared to be aiming not only at weakening NATO’s southern flank, but also, possibly, at loosening the alliance’s resolve to accept new member states. NATO countries are to some degree divided over the alliance’s enlargement policy, and Moscow has sought to exploit those tensions in order to undermine the chances for enlargement (Russian agencies, February 17).