NICOSIA – The lifting by the United States of an arms embargo to Cyprus – where Turkey keeps a 35,000-strong standing army on the occupied northern third – will set off an arms race there, Turkey complained.
Turkey buys American-made weapons but doesn’t want the legitimate Greek-Cypriot government that’s a member of the European Union – Turkey has been trying to join since 2005 – to get any.
The embargo will end this year and starting in 2023 Cyprus will be eligible to get American weapons which Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said would “further strengthen the Greek Cypriot side’s intransigence and negatively affect efforts to resettle the Cyprus issue,” said Al Jazeera.
“It will lead to an arms race on the island, harming peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean,” a ministry statement said, calling on the US to reconsider the move.
Cyprus has been divided since two unlawful 1974 invasions – implicitly supported by the United States – and all attempts at reunification have failed, leading Turkish-Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar to say he won’t try and wants only recognition for the occupied territory.
The US imposed the arms embargo on the whole of Cyprus in 1987 in the hope it could encourage its reunification, but it didn’t and the policy has remained in place for 35 years despite that.
Without being able to get American weapons, Cyprus turned to Russia to procure Mi-35 attack helicopters, T-80 tanks, and Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems for defense.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades hailed the historic decision by the US to end the embargo, which is conditional on the government continuing to bar Russian warships from its ports.
“This is a landmark decision reflecting the burgeoning strategic relationship between the two countries, including in the area of security,” he said, the news agency reported.
Critics said the embargo was counterproductive because it drove Cyprus toward Russia – which is under European Union sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine and has a large presence on the island.
There hasn’t been any prohibition on Turkey arming its side to the hilt on the island, leaving the Greek-Cypriot side at a defense disadvantage if Turkey ever tries to take the rest of the island.
“Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation to allow the approval of exports, re-exports, and transfers of defense articles,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said. It wasn’t said what the weapons are.
In December 2019, the US Congress voted to lift the arms embargo to allow “non-lethal” military hardware to be exported after the US realized that Cyprus could still get weapons – from Russia.