Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 132

Officials in Russia’s military-industrial sector were quoted yesterday as saying that the delivery of Russian S-300 air defense missile complexes to Cyprus may be postponed until the fall. The sources, who were not identified, attributed the delay to fears in Cyprus that delivery of the missiles could raise tensions and adversely affect the island’s tourist industry. (Itar-Tass, July 9) Delivery of the missiles is presumably scheduled to take place in the autumn, once the tourist season is over.

Yesterday’s remarks tend to corroborate statements made last week by Russia’s outgoing ambassador to Turkey, Vadim Kuznetsov, who said on July 2 that a postponement in the delivery of the S-300s had been requested by the Cypriot parliament. Reactions in Moscow to Kuznetsov’s statement varied, but the official one was clearly negative. On July 4, Kuznetsov was rebuked by a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman–who said that Kuznetsov was “not empowered” to comment on the delivery of the S-300s. (Itar-Tass, July 4) Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Russian state arms trade company Rosvooruzhenie was quoted on July 3 as saying that he knew of no delay in supplying Cyprus with the missiles. (Kommersant-daily, July 3) In June, tensions flared between Moscow and Ankara when a Russian daily reported that the S-300s had already arrived in Cyprus. (See Monitor, June 10)

The confusion over the date of delivery–and the dubious linkage of the scheduling to Cyprus’ tourist season–suggest that backstage diplomatic maneuvering over the controversial deal between Greece and Turkey is continuing. The United States has argued strongly against it, claiming that it will exacerbate tensions in the region. Ankara has threatened to take military action to prevent the missiles’ deployment. Moscow, meanwhile, has continued to insist that the deal is a purely commercial one and will not change the military balance on Cyprus. Both Russian and Cypriot leaders have also insisted that delivery of the missiles, scheduled to take place this summer, will go forward as planned.

The whiff of intrigue that has of late surrounded the missile deal is strengthened by the fact that Yiannakis Omirou, defense minister of Cyprus, is now in Moscow for four days of talks with top Russian officials, including Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. According to one Russian report, the visit was kept secret as long as was possible–being announced only on the eve of Omirou’s departure. (Russian TV, July 7) Omirou, moreover, is to be followed to Moscow by Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides, who is to visit from July 11 to 14 as a guest of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, ostensibly to attend the World Youth Games. Clerides will reportedly meet with President Boris Yeltsin during his stay. (Xinhua, July 7) The situation regarding delivery of the S-300s to Cyprus will presumably become clearer by the close of [both visits] Omirou’s and Clerides’ visits to Russia.