Tensions provoked by a Russian missile deal with Cyprus deepened over the weekend as both Washington and Moscow criticized the Turkish government for threatening military action against Cyprus as a possible response. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Tarasov told reporters on January 11 that Russia could neither remain "indifferent" to the Turkish government’s actions nor, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, ignore statements that "contain a direct threat to the security of the sovereign Republic of Cyprus." Tarasov said that the Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile complexes to be provided Cyprus are defensive systems, and added that Moscow remains a proponent of a complete demilitarization of Cyprus. U.S. sources have suggested that the missile systems will not actually be delivered to Cyprus for another 16-18 months. (Itar-Tass, January 11; The Washington Post, January 10)
The U.S. has spearheaded Western criticism of the January 4 missile deal, with State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns arguing on January 6 that it "introduces a new and destabilizing military element on the island and in the region at the very time that the international community is exploring ways to foster political cooperation to significantly advance a settlement." Burns also described Cyprus as "one of the most militarized regions in the world," and suggested that the sale could create a spiraling arms race there. (COMPASS, January 6) The U.S. has dispatched a special envoy to the island in hopes of defusing the situation, but the government of Cyprus has reiterated its intention to follow through with the deal. (AP, January 7)
In Moscow, meanwhile, Washington’s opposition to the missile sale has generated an avalanche of media criticism. Russian commentators have suggested that the U.S. and other Western governments have lined up against the deal not out of any genuine concern over peace and stability on Cyprus, but as part of an effort to negate yet another gain by Russian arms exporters. In fact, this notion that Western arms producers and their governments are conniving cynically to limit the successes of resurgent Russian arms dealers has become a constant in Russian commentaries on that subject. (ORT, January 6; Itar-Tass, January 8)
Aside from the monetary benefits that it will bring to Russia’s arms exporters, the missile deal could also advance several of Moscow’s broader geo-strategic goals. For one, it exacerbates tensions between two NATO states — Greece and Turkey — at a time when the Western alliance is attempting to push ahead with plans for expansion that are opposed by Moscow. The missile deal is also likely to strengthen further an emerging friendship between Russia and Greece that is aimed at limiting the influence of Turkey, a traditional rival to both countries, in the southern part of the former Soviet Union and throughout the Balkans. Various figures in Russia have long made clear Moscow’s intention to reassert what it sees as its traditional influence in that part of the world. That goal has become somewhat more complicated in recent weeks as pro-democracy demonstrations in Serbia and Bulgaria challenge the political authority of forces friendly to Moscow.
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