Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades has announced that Russian warplanes can use military air bases in southern Cyprus if they are in a “difficult situation.”
Speaking in Athens on Wednesday, Anastasiades said that the decision was taken in a bid to improve relations between Russia and the Greek Cypriot administration.
“We are trying to improve our relations,” he said, adding, “We have signed an agreement with Russia. In this context, the Russian vessels and warplanes are allowed to take on supplies in critical conditions.”
“In critical situations, Russian ships or aircrafts are allowed to take supplies. This is not with an aim to [facilitate] attacks but as aid,” Anastasiades explained.
According to his statement, Russia will be able to use all airports in addition to the Andreas Papandreou military base near the southwestern city of Paphos, access that was granted to Russia for humanitarian missions earlier this year.
The air base and port facilities in Paphos are regularly used by French and German forces as a refuelling and maintenance station to support United Nations peace operations in neighbouring Lebanon.
The air base is also just 40 kilometres from Akrotiri - one of two sovereign British bases on the island - which is often used to support NATO operations in the Middle East.
Anastasiades’ statement comes just two weeks after he met in southern Nicosia with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, with whom he discussed the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
Just 50 miles from the Syrian coast at its nearest point, Cyprus has found itself in the middle of a conflict of interests between Russia and the EU regarding the Syrian war.
In January 2012, the Greek Cypriot administration defied an EU arms embargo on Syria after a Russian weapons shipment was allowed to depart for Syria from the port of Limassol in southern Cyprus.
Earlier this year, the Greek Cypriot administration also agreed to allow Russian navy vessels to use ports in southern Cyprus following a deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Anastasiades.
British bases on the island have also been used to launch air strikes on the DAESH terrorist group in Syria as part of the US-led coalition, which has grown increasingly concerned that the Russian campaign against DAESH is instead targeting moderate opposition groups.
In recent years, the discovery of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean between Cyprus and its neighbours have raised the prospect of Europe being able to diversify its gas supply away from Russia, upon which it is currently dependent for much of its gas.
According to an analysis titled "War in Syria today could spell war for Cyprus tomorrow" published by the Cyprus Mail newspaper on Oct. 18, by maintaining its influence in Syria’s coastal provinces as well as its sway on the Greek Cypriot administration, to which it provided a €2.5 billion economic bailout in 2011, Russia may in the future seek a stake in the eastern Mediterranean gas bonanza and thus protect its position over Europe’s gas imports.