Frantic – if broken – talks to reunify Cyprus after 42 years have run into clandestine Russian attempts to scupper the negotiations, Moscow’s critics contend.
While Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci were conducting secret talks in Geneva, Russia’s Ambassador to Cyprus, Stanislav Osadchiy, attended a conference in Nicosia of hardline politicians who don’t want a deal, the New York Times reported in a story on Russia’s background involvement.
The group he met with had helped sink a 2004 plan to unify the island after Cypriots voted against it, while Turks on the northern third of the island unlawfully occupied since a 1974 invasion supported it.
Osadchiy’s attendance at the seminar, shunned by Western and other diplomats, angered Anastasiades. He told The Times that the Ambassador apologized and claimed not to know th intent of the conference despite wide publicity about its agenda.
Anastasiades accepted the explanation but said, “I consider any intervention by any third country as not what we are looking for.”
It’s a tough balancing act for Anastasiades as Cyprus has long been a favored place for wealthy Russian to hide – or launder – money and they still do even though in 2013 he reneged on campaign promises and approved confiscation of bank accounts over 100,000 euros ($106,760) to keep them from going under, as part of a deal to get a 10-billion euro ($10.68 billion) international bailout.
He faces a re-election campaign next year and he and Akinci, having missed a self-imposed deadline to reach a deal by the end of 2016, are trying to save the talks after Turkey – one of the island’s guarantors of security along with the United Kingdom and Greece – said its 30,000-strong army would never leave.
That has, again, dashed optimism and unity hopes and proved wrong diplomats, including UN Special Envoy Espen Barth Eide, that a deal was imminent.
It also played into Russia’s hands, according to those who see the imprint of Russia President Vladimir Putin in a conspiracy to keep Cyprus split and at least partially dependent on Russian goodwill and money.
RUSSIAN BEAR’S EVERYWHERE
Makarios Drousiotis, a Greek-Cypriot researcher who has tried to expose what he calls Russian meddling in Cyprus, said Russia’ alleged hacking of the US Presidential elections had shaken Cypriots.
“What they have been doing in America and Europe they have been doing for 50 years in Cyprus,” said he told the newspaper.
The Cyprus Mail called Osdachiy, as “the darling” of anti-settlement forces “because he regularly says things aimed at undermining the talks or making the pursuit of a deal more difficult.”
Russia vehemently disputes the accusation. Maria Zakharova, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said Moscow was “surprised by the anti-Russia comments in the Cyprus media” and accused the media of creating “a smokescreen for the real problems that need to be tackled as part of the Cypriot settlement.”
But Drousiotis said, “Every time there has been an attempt to solve the Cyprus issue, the Russians have jumped in to block a settlement,” and prevent a deal.
Part of the alleged attempt, critics said, is to keep a Cyprus unity deal from ending a schism between Turkey and Greece and stop development of large gas reserve potential off the island that could ease Turkey’s energy dependence on Russia’s Gazprom.
Vladimir A. Chizhov, Russia’s European Union Ambassador to the European Union, issued a scathing statement Jan. 13 to denounce what he called “preposterous” reports that Russia wanted to block a settlement.
“Evidently, anti-Russian hysteria is becoming contagious. Overzealous fighters of the (dis)information front are working day and night trying to implicate Russia in all sorts of problems, including those that are the direct result of shortsighted and arrogant policies of others,” he said.
Harry Tzimitras, Director of the Nicosia branch of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, told The Times there were many obstacles to peace in Cyprus, mostly Turkey’s insistence on keeping its army there and the right to militarily intervene when it wants.
“The fundamental mistrust” between the two sides he told The Times is the main reason for the failure of decades of diplomatic efforts to reach a settlement. “In Cyprus, you rarely fight facts,” he said. “You fight perceptions and ghosts.”
Preventing a peace deal would also undermine attempts by the United States to be a broker of sorts and keep influence in the region.
“In this view, the status quo is working very well for Russia,” Tzimitras said. “They don’t want it disrupted.”Anastasiades said, Cyprus understands “the games superpowers play.”
He added: “We want the support of everyone who can give support. It is a matter of survival.”