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Cyprus - the defence angle

The near collapse of Cyprus’ banking system is dominating the headlines. Media attention has understandably focused on Cypriots queuing by ATMs, the plight of expats, and so on. The national security implications of all this have been largely overlooked.  The defence ministers around Europe today must be heaving a sigh of relief that the Mediterranean island has turned to the EU and accepted a €10bn ECB bailout. It could have turned to Russia instead.

 

The kleptocrats have plenty of reason to take an interest in the future of Cyprus. Firstly the island’s washing lines droop from rouble notes hanging out to dry. Plenty of Russian money, including from very high sources, resides in the island’s bloated banking system. Secondly, many Russians have established homes on the island – decorated, I gather, with their normal standards of taste. Thirdly, the island has  vast strategic importance, providing  a platform from which to  exert influence over the whole of the Middle East. Russia has long harboured an ambition to operate a naval base there; all the more so since its existing naval base in the region (and its only one left outside Russia)  – in Tartus,  Syria – now faces certain operational difficulties.

 

The Russians are not known for largesse, and certainly not largesse with no strings. There would be a quid pro quo for any Russian bailout - a major naval base on the island. This would create a situation of tension not seen since the Cold War. Cyprus is the location of Britain’s largest overseas defence establishment, the Sovereign Base  Areas at Akrotiri and Dhekelia. Even after several KEOs on the beach at Ayia Napa, the most sozzled tourist cannot fail to notice the aerials on the hill. Twenty miles from the Dhekelia garrison is one of GCHQ’s most important SIGINT outposts - Ayios Nikolaos (officially the Joint Services Signals Unit) , from which we eavesdrop on the airwaves of the Eastern Med.

 

I don’t think the MoD would welcome the Russians as neighbours somehow. Fortunately, due to typically heavy-handed maneuvering by the Russians last week, Cyprus turned in the other direction, and this outcome has been avoided – for now. To rub their noses in it, the Russians will presumably be directly affected by the haircut of up to 40% on Cyprus deposits of over €100k. The pain!

Akrotiri Comet

A RAF Comet C1 at Akrotiri in the Sixties. I have to admit that I am sufficiently ancient to have flown in one of these whilst on attachment at Lyneham. Indeed Akrotiri is the nearest I have come to being in a warzone, but that's another story....

For Cyprus' links with the Russians and their unpleasant arms trade see for example this Guardian article.