Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 52

The head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s main department for international cooperation, General Leonid Ivashov, launched several days of talks in Athens yesterday devoted to military cooperation between Russia and Greece. The talks fall under the auspices of a Russian-Greek intergovernmental commission on military and technical cooperation. The commission, which convenes twice yearly, last met in Moscow in September 1997. Among the key topics at the current session will be the possible purchase by Greece of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile complexes. (Itar-Tass, March 16) Russian sources reported on March 11 that the Greek government is considering buying either the Russian S-300s or U.S.-made Patriot missiles. (Itar-Tass, March 11)

One item sure to be on this week’s agenda in Athens is a controversial deal by which Moscow is to supply Cyprus with the same S-300 complexes. Turkey responded furiously to the announcement of the deal in early 1997, and has issued various threats since then in an effort to stop or counter it. The United States has joined Ankara in criticizing the sale, arguing that deployment of the missiles could exacerbate the already tense situation on Cyprus. Reports last year suggested that the actual delivery of the missiles to Cyprus would begin around the middle of this year, but no official date of delivery has been made public.

Despite the Turkish and U.S. protests, or perhaps because of them, various Russian diplomats have made a point since the beginning of this year to reiterate their intention to follow through on delivery of the missiles. That message was conveyed to the Greek government personally by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov during a visit to Athens last month. Primakov also repeated Moscow’s claim that it will halt delivery of the missiles only under one condition–if the entire territory of Cyprus is demilitarized. (Itar-Tass, February 16) Turkey is unlikely to agree to that condition.

Moscow has used the Cyprus missile sale adroitly, both to strengthen its ties to one NATO member — Greece — while stirring up smoldering tensions between it and another NATO member — Turkey. Russia and Turkey are themselves also traditional rivals. Moscow’s actions, moreover, have won it a role in diplomatic efforts to reduce military tensions on Cyprus. Those efforts have been led by the United States.

Cyprus has been unofficially partitioned since Turkish troops, claiming the need to defend the Turkish Cypriot minority, invaded the island in 1974. The invasion followed an abortive coup by supporters of unification with Greece. Tensions between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus flared once again following a decision by the EU last December to offer candidate membership to Cyprus — but not to Turkey.

Joint Development of Kuril Islands Still a Question Mark.