Moscow is said to be in talks with both TRNC and Ankara on a possible flight path and inauguration of flights could also potentially mark a step toward Russia's recognition of the Turkish Cypriot state.
Russia might launch direct flights between Moscow and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a state supported and recognised only by Türkiye.
The inauguration of flights could also potentially mark a step toward Moscow’s recognition of the Turkish Cypriot state, a critical development that comes at a time when Russia is facing back-breaking sanctions from the West.
The development was first reported by a Turkish media outlet Milliyet and confirmed to TRT World by a top official in the TRNC foreign ministry. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said today that he would be "pleased" if Russian flights were initiated to the TRNC.
Moscow is said to be in talks with both TRNC and Ankara on the possible flight path – a major breakthrough which signals Russia’s pivot from the Greek Cypriot Administration (GCA) to TRNC. Greek Cypriots and Russia, the two Orthodox Christian nations, have had warm relations in the past.
“The issue of Russian planes is a subject that proceeds with backdoor diplomacy... There is an initiative from the Russian Federation on this issue, but we do not know how it will turn out,” a senior Turkish Cypriot diplomat tells TRT World. He spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Ismail Bozkurt, a Turkish Cypriot political analyst who was once a member of the TRNC presidential advisory council responsible for negotiations with the GCA, also sees Russian direct flights to the TRNC as a growing possibility.
“When you look at the facts, it seems possible for Russia to start direct flights to the TRNC,” Bozkurt tells TRT World. “I also believe that Russia might lift its pressure over Turkic states [in Central Asia] and condone them to recognise the TRNC,” Bozkurt says. Russian direct flights would be “positive gains” for the TRNC’s future, Bozkurt believes.
If the Russian flight initiative became a reality, that would be a huge step for TRNC’s international recognition, according to the Turkish Cypriot diplomat.
On Tuesday, during the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also made a historic call to the international community “to recognise the TRNC as soon as possible”.
The TRNC was established in 1983 after the failure to address the Cyprus issue following Türkiye’s 1974 military intervention, which was prompted by a Greek-led coup in the island seeking the unification of the island with Athens, led by a military dictatorship at the time.
The GCA is another political entity in southern Cyprus led by Greek Cypriots. Cyprus, a divided island for the last five decades, is located in the strategic eastern Mediterranean region where rich gas reserves have been recently explored by coastal states, including both Türkiye and TRNC.
While the international community, including Russia, recognises the GCA as the sovereign state, Türkiye, one of the guarantor states of the Turkish Republic of Cyprus, which was founded in 1960 following the Zurich-London Treaties signed between Ankara, London and Athens, rejects this, seeing it as injustice to the political rights of Turkish Cypriots.
Russia is changing Cyprus position
Under drastically changing political circumstances, Russia appears to be moving away from not only Greek Cypriots but also Greece as both allied states have recently increasingly gotten closer to the US’s positions against Moscow.
On the other hand, Türkiye’s balanced diplomacy regarding the Ukraine conflict and also other issues like the Syrian civil war has made Russia warm up to some Turkish positions in different regional disputes like the Mediterranean island.
Türkiye, a NATO ally, has pursued a middle ground between the Western alliance and Russia on Ukraine, and also mediating between Kiev and Moscow and eliciting praise from different political powerhouses of the world, including the Kremlin.
“Russian-Greek Cypriot-Greek relations have traditionally been very good, but recently their rapprochement with the United States has angered Moscow,” says the Turkish Cypriot official. Relations got even worse since the US lifted the arms embargo on the GCA, he says.
The US pledged to Greek Cypriots that it would lift the arms embargo over the GCA if they fulfil the two crucial American political conditions related to Russia, according to the Turkish Cypriot diplomat.
First, Washington asked for “cooperation with the US in the fight against money laundering,” says the diplomat. But the real goal is to control the activities of Russian offshore companies in southern Cyprus, he adds.
Second, the US demanded the GCA to stop Russian military ships from receiving supplies from southern Cyprus ports under Greek Cypriot control, according to the diplomat.
Because the GCA apparently fulfilled both US conditions, Washington lifted the arms embargo over the GCA last week, eliciting condemnation from Ankara which believes that the American decision “will lead to an arms race in the Island, harming peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean”.
Bozkurt believes that “by lifting the arms embargo over the GCA, the US showed which side it supports in the Cyprus dispute.” Türkiye has also previously expressed its concerns in regard to US arming of Greece, where Washington has recently established as many as nine military bases. “The arming of both Greece and the GCA has created an equation with many unknowns,” says Bozkurt.
Recent steps from both the US and the GCA also discomforted Russia, pushing Moscow to take measures “to hurt” Greek Cypriots, says the diplomat in a reference to why the Kremlin aims to start direct flights to the TRNC.
Russians have already observed a political trend through which the GCA has taken “a hostile behaviour” against Moscow, according to Bozkurt. “On top of that, seeing American arms reaching South Cyprus is a development they don’t like to see,” he says.
As a result, they could give a response to what the GCA has done recently, he says. “Even if they don’t officially recognise the TRNC [in response to the GCA’s anti-Russia measures], they can do things which mean they like to recognise it,” he adds.
Meanwhile, the first time ever, Russia appointed a Muslim ambassador, Murat Magometovich Zyazikov, a native of Ingusethia, to the GCA, displeasing Greek Cypriots. In Zyazikov’s appointment, experts see a direct message of “an enhanced Turkish-Russian understanding on the issues of Cyprus” from Moscow to Greek Cypriots, punishing the latter’s pro-US turn.