Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) President Mustafa Akinci has refused to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the top diplomat’s visit to the island of Cyprus on December 1-2.
According to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Lavrov had offered to meet with the Turkish Cypriot leader in the UN-controlled buffer zone area that divides the TRNC and the island’s southern territories under the Greek Cypriot administration.
"We offered a compromise option of meeting Lavrov on the ‘green line’ to the leader of Cypriot Turks. The proposal would have taken account of the interests of both communities residing on the island but it was turned down," Zakharova told the Russian media.
During his visit to the island, Lavrov is due to meet with Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, as well as his Greek Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulidis, with whom he plans to discuss the Cyprus peace talks and the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
Peace talks to reunite the divided island of Cyprus as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal republic are ongoing, with both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders and negotiators regularly meeting to iron out differences between the two sides.
The two communities have maintained a largely uninterrupted ceasefire ever since Turkey exercised its right under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee to carry out a military intervention on the island after the Greek military junta ousted the Cypriot government in a coup in 1974 with the intention to unite Cyprus with Greece.
However, over four decades of on-and-off peace talks have thus far failed to secure an agreement which will guarantee the rights of Turkish Cypriots, who in 1983 declared the independence of the TRNC.
Due to the TRNC being unrecognised by the international community, meetings between Turkish Cypriot representatives and international officials are usually held in the buffer zone, which is considered neutral ground between the two sides.
President Akinci’s rejection of Lavrov comes after Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter jet on the Syrian border on Tuesday, after it breached Turkish airspace.
Russia’s military intervention in Syria, which began on Sept. 30 as part of Moscow’s efforts to bolster the regime of Bashar al Assad, has increased tensions between Russia and Turkey, as Turkey continues to insist that Assad must not play a role in Syria’s future.
Russia is particularly fortifying Assad’s position along Syria’s coastal governorates of Latakia and Tartus, home to both Assad’s minority Alawite sect and Russia’s only naval repair base in the eastern Mediterranean.
The conflict has also put the island of Cyprus, which is just 50 miles from the Syrian coast at its nearest point, in the spotlight.
Finding itself in the middle of a conflict of interests between Russia and the EU, the Greek Cypriot administration defied an EU arms embargo on Syria in January 2012 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 Nicos 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 has 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.