Cyprus plays down naval deal with Russia

Cyprus played down on Thursday an agreement granting Russian warships access to its ports and denied there was any request from Moscow to open a base on the island.

The heavily indebted eurozone member has close investment and tourism ties with Russia and has repeatedly expressed misgivings about EU sanctions against Moscow.

But the deal signed on Wednesday during a visit by Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades raised eyebrows as tensions between Russia and the West over the conflict in Ukraine remain high.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Anastasiades on Wednesday in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin too sought to allay any Western concerns.

“The friendly relations between our countries are not aimed against anyone… and our cooperation does not harm anyone,” the Russian leader said, according to an official transcript.

Referring to the port agreement, he said: “These are primarily Russian ships participating in international efforts to fight terrorism, international piracy, etc.”

The Nicosia government’s spokesman Nicos Christodoulides told state radio from Moscow that Russian warships had been making port calls in Cyprus for years.

“This has been happening for some time… Things now become more institutionalized through this agreement,” he said.

The spokesman denied there had been any Russian request for a military base on the island or for access to Cypriot airfields for its warplanes.

“There is no issue of giving a base in Cyprus. There was no request,” he said.

Cyprus is not itself part of NATO but alliance members Britain, Greece and Turkey all have large troop deployments on the island.

Britain has about 3,500 military and civilian personnel on two sovereign base areas on the island that it has retained since Cyprus won independence in 1960.

Greece has around 10,000 troops supporting the Greek Cypriot National Guard.

Turkey, which invaded the island’s northern third in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup seeking union with Greece, has roughly 35,000 troops stationed in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state.