Following biting media reports about Cyprus being influenced by Russian oligarchs and reluctant to go along with European Union sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine, The Cyprus Mail said the next government coming in February can’t walk the line anymore.
The paper said Cypriot governments have too long been subservient to Russia, with Cyprus long accused of being a spot for rich Russians to hide their money in banks without question, and the island home to some 18,000 Russian ex-patriates.
What was most upsetting, an editorial in the paper said, is that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reprimanded the Cypriot government like a schoolteacher chastising the student and there was no response.
He was responded to a question by the Cyprus News Agency’s Moscow correspondent and what the minister would say to all those “who believed that Russia was acting like other imperialist forces that violate international law and seek the occupation of territory and change of borders, a policy which struck at Greece and Cyprus.”
That brought a stern rebuke. I do not know from what Greece and Cyprus suffer the most. We were always very close friends with Greeks and Cypriots, while those metamorphoses that took place in the leaderships of these countries it was natural that we identified them and registered them.”
Russia was a victim of the West, he claimed, as the US was “concentrating forces” from “its satellites” and NATO countries “so they could start a world hybrid war against us,” a stance said the Cypriot government didn’t counter.
“Russia is the leading practitioner of post-truth politics and it is in this field Lavrov is operating, maintaining that the aggressor, which has been on a mission to obliterate Ukraine, is in fact the victim of a US conspiracy. And he is appalled that countries that have been under Moscow’s influence, if not control, like Cyprus and, to a lesser extent, Greece do not share this warped version of reality,” it said.
That was seen as a shot at Cyprus and Greece for going along with EU sanctions over the ongoing Russian invasion which also included barring Russian airlines that are a pipeline to Cyprus for Russian tourists.
“Bearing in mind this servile loyalty to Moscow displayed by the Cyprus political establishment over the years, Lavrov felt he was entitled to issue his reprimand,” the paper said, noting President Nicos Anastasiades, ending 10 years in office, was the only EU leader to go to a Moscow parade after Russia annexed Crimea.
“Should we mention how the former ambassador of Russia, until the day he left, was constantly meddling in domestic affairs and issuing directives?” the paper said, Anastasiades looking the other way.
The President’s timid response to Lavrov showed meekness, the editorial added, Anastasiades falling back on being grateful that Russia half-heartedly hasn’t taken a stance backing Turkey’s occupation of the northern third of the island.
“Had the foreign minister of any Western country issued a similar public reprimand and warning to Cyprus there would have been political uproar. The parties would have been urging the government to recall its ambassador, while newspaper columnists would be calling for retaliatory action,” the paper said.
Instead, “not a single critical word uttered by anyone. It underlined the country’s subservience to Moscow which has not been affected in any way by Russia’s ultra-close political, strategic and economic relations with Turkey, ties that have become even closer since the invasion of Ukraine.”
Lavrov’s lesson came after the US TV news magazine 60 Minutes said Russian oligarchs had brought big influence along with getting residency permits and valuable European Union passports on Cyprus, the scheme ending in 2020 after finding it wasn’t checked for money laundering, corruption and criminal activity.
Cyprus has frozen about 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) in Russian-linked deposits and assets in accordance with European Union sanctions over the war in Ukraine, Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides said in response.
But the paper said being lukewarm isn’t working and that “Cyprus must make a choice. We cannot play with both sides, as has been the state policy since the time of Makarios. In the new world being shaped, this is unsustainable. We need to ignore Lavrov’s bullying and take our place in the Western group of states.”