Quiet US moves in the Mediterranean may help build pressure on Russia, but not everyone at NATO is happy about it

Army CH-47 Chinook Helicopter over Cyprus

A US Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter flies over the coast of Cyprus in January 2020.U.S. Army/Major Robert Ferringham

  • The United States lifted a 35-year arms embargo on the Republic of Cyprus in September.

  • This will allow Cyprus to receive the latest US weapons and send Russian-made weapons to Ukraine.

  • However, the US decision angered Turkey, which is at odds with NATO ally Greece over the island.

In September, the United States lifted a longstanding arms embargo on the Republic of Cyprus, allowing the Republic of Cyprus to purchase or receive U.S. weapons. in October.

An embargo was imposed in 1987 to limit the amount of weapons on the island in support of efforts to reunify the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish-occupied territories in the northern part of the island.

The United States partially lifted the embargo in 2020, but the decision to do so fully reflects the changing geopolitical situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Russia’s influence in the region is declining. indicates that

Increased cooperation

Cyprus Cyprus Underwater Demolition Team US Navy Special Warfare

Cyprus Undersea Demolition Team and US Navy Special Warfare Task Unit Europe training in Cyprus in September 2021.US Army/Sergeant Patrick Orcutt

The lifting of the embargo is the culmination of recent steps to strengthen ties between the United States and Cyprus.

Cyprus President Nikos Anastassiades said, “This is a landmark decision that reflects the burgeoning strategic relationship between our two countries, including in the security area.” Said After the announcement.

Cyprus has traditionally had close ties with Moscow, which was a major arms supplier to Nicosia. Also seen as an island. Russia’s illicit money heaven. In 2019, Cyprus about 50% According to the Carnegie International Fund, the amount of Russian investment around the world.

However, in recent years, the Cyprus government has moved closer to the United States.

Israel Cyprus Greece Italy Mediterranean Europe Gas pipeline

A map of the proposed East Mediterranean gas pipeline as seen in Tel Aviv in April 2017.Jack Gez/AFP via Getty Images

2019, parliament passed Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act to strengthen energy cooperation between the United States and Cyprus, Israel, and Greece. The three Eastern Mediterranean countries maintain close trilateral cooperation on regional energy and security issues.

Additionally, in 2020, the U.S. government partially lifted the embargo, allowing the export of non-lethal weapons to Cyprus and began training the Cypriot military.followed by frequent practice between US special operations forces and their counterparts in Cyprus.

October 1st, Pentagon also announced Cyprus will join the US National Guard State Partnership Programis intended to enhance security cooperation between U.S. and foreign militaries.

strategic location

Navy destroyer Stout in Limassol Cyprus

The US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Stout arrives in Limassol, Cyprus in December 2013.US Navy/MCS2 Amanda R. Gray

In addition to overlooking the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus’ position allows access to North Africa, the Levant, and Asia Minor.

When the islands gained independence from Britain in 1960, Britain maintained sovereign control over the territory, including two military bases that served as hubs for operations and intelligence gathering.

Nicosia after Russia attacked Ukraine in February Banned many Russian warships It scrapped a 2015 agreement that allowed the Russian Navy access to those ports for resupply. (After the partial lifting of the embargo in 2020, the United States called to Cyprus It barred Russian warships from its ports to secure further concessions, sparking a diplomatic dispute between Washington and Moscow.)

Losing access to Cyprus would force Russian warships to move elsewhere to maintain operations in the region. Moscow already has a port in Syria. Expanding.

Russian T-80 tank in Cyprus

A Russian T-80 tank of the Cypriot National Guard during exercises in October 2007.AFP by Christos Theodorides/Getty Images

Closer ties with the US also allow Cyprus to send Russian-made military weapons to Ukraine in exchange for new US-made weapons.

Cyprus have 82 T-80U tanks, 43 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles, numerous air defense systems and other Russian hardware. Sending it to Ukraine would strengthen Kyiv’s defenses and further cut Nicosia from Moscow. analyst says.

Thursday, Anastasiades Said His country did not plan to send weapons to Ukraine, but left open the possibility of replacing Cypriot hardware with new weapons.

“Half of Cyprus is occupied. We need defense, so without defense we cannot survive,” Anastassiades told reporters. But Anastassiades added that if other countries “want to replace our weapons with modern and equally powerful ones, thereby creating a decisive deterrent, that is another matter.” rice field.

conflict between allies

Cyprus Nicosia Turkey Buffer Zone UN Peacekeepers

A UN peacekeeper looks at a map of the buffer zone between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, April 2021.ROY ISSA/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. decision to lift the embargo comes amid a global backlash over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it could also spark long-standing tensions between the two closest U.S. allies. .

Cyprus is one of many countries issue Between Greece and Turkey, deteriorating relations worry other NATO members. The island is ethnically divided between a majority Greek Cypriot and a minority Turkic Cypriot community.

Turkey invaded the island in 1974, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, officially recognized only by Ankara, now de facto controls about one-third of the island and maintains about 40,000 Turkish troops. I’m here. Nicosia’s internationally recognized government controls about two-thirds of the island. Many efforts to unite the islands have failed.

Athens, together with Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, welcomed the US decision to lift the embargo express “Greece’s most intense satisfaction” over travel.

Greek Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos called Greece and Cyprus are “brothers” in a “new and highly complex geopolitical era,” and lifting the embargo will pave the way for arms sales and U.S. infrastructure, including a naval base in Cyprus. said it could be

Cyprus UN Peacekeepers Buffer Zone

UN peacekeepers in Cyprus lock the gates to the UN-managed buffer zone in Cyprus in June 2017.AFP via IAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU/Getty Images

Turkey strongly condemned the decision and urged the United States to reconsider.the ministry of foreign affairs Said Lifting the embargo would “further strengthen the intransigence on the part of Greece and Cyprus and adversely affect efforts to resettle the Cyprus issue.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called He said the decision was “inexplicable in terms of content and timing” and that Turkey would strengthen its military presence on the island.

Erdogan said the US move would trigger an “arms race on the island” and that “all precautions will be taken for the safety of Turkish Cypriots”.

However, the lifting of the embargo may not last long.

According to the State Department, U.S. law requires the U.S. president to tell Congress each year that Cyprus will continue to cooperate in enforcing financial regulations and “take necessary steps to deny Russian warships access to its ports.” required to prove.

Constantine Atlamazoglou works on transatlantic and European security. He holds a master’s degree in security studies and European affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.you can contact him LinkedIn.

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