Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 139

A controversial deal under which Russia is to supply S-300 air-defense missiles to Cyprus was back in the news yesterday as both Greek and Turkish Cypriots marked the anniversary of Turkey’s 1974 invasion of the island. The ceremonies–celebratory in the Turkish Cypriot north and solemn in the Greek Cypriot south–took on an added urgency this year because of plans to deliver the Russian missile complexes to Cyprus sometime between now and the end of the year. Turkey has objected fiercely to the missile deal and has threatened to prevent deployment of the S-300s–by military means if necessary.

That warning provided the context for an air display conducted by Turkey yesterday in front of thousands of Turkish Cypriots on the northern coast of the island. Turkey’s determination to stop deployment of the S-300s was also restated yesterday by Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz. In a speech delivered on the Turkish side of the UN-patrolled demilitarized zone in Cyprus, Yilmaz said that “no one should doubt that we can oppose any kind of threat against the security of Turkey.” (AP, July 20) Greece, which supports the Greek Cypriots, has said that it would respond to any attack on Cyprus by Turkey. Both Greece and Turkey are members of NATO. The president and defense minister of Cyprus recently visited Russia, but it remained unclear at the conclusion of their talks just when the Russian missiles would be delivered to Cyprus. (See the Monitor, July 10, 13-14)

Yesterday’s ceremonies came as Russian State Duma Chairman Gennady Seleznev arrived in Ankara for four days of talks with Turkish leaders. Discussion of the S-300 deal was expected to be included in those talks. Yesterday, Seleznev met with Turkish President Suleyman Demirel. The Turkish leader underscored the importance of rising levels of trade between Russia and Turkey, and called for the two countries to work together to strengthen peace in the region. (Itar-Tass, July 20) Despite the improving trade picture, Russia and Turkey have clashed not only over Cyprus, but also over Turkey’s efforts to extend its political influence into the Caucasus region. The two countries have also been at odds over a decision by Ankara to limit the number of Russian tankers passing through the Turkish straits.

In Moscow, meanwhile, an official involved in Russian arms exports confirmed yesterday that Russia would offer to supply Greece with air defense weapons systems, including the S-300 and the Antei-2500. It is expected that the Russian systems will be competing against U.S.-made Patriot missiles in the tender for the Greek contract. (Itar-Tass, July 20) Russian officials consistently describe the S-300s and the Antei-2500 systems as the best in the world, but are not always confident when discussing Russia’s chances of winning the Greek tender. Some suggest that political considerations will compel Greece to opt for the Patriots, and that Athens is using the Russian systems only to force down the price of the American missiles.