Putin’s slip

While in Turkey on an official visit last week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke of Cyprus’s «two states.» He immediately corrected himself, referring instead to the island’s «two sections.» Moscow’s ambassador to Athens made a clarifying statement and the minutes of the meeting were also corrected. Putin’s slip was unfortunate, but it would anyway make no sense for Russia to reverse its decades-long Cyprus policy simply to secure Turkish support for a gas pipeline project. Russia’s major strategic problem is NATO’s further expansion, as worries of «encirclement,» going back to the days of the Soviet Union, have not subsided. So Putin had no reason to give ammunition to those who wish to see Cyprus join the transatlantic alliance – a prospect resisted by President Dimitris Christofias. As for Putin’s remarks that Russia will provide economic assistance to the Turkish «section,» a more proper wording would have been the «Turkish-Cypriot community» or the «Turkish Cypriots.» The EU has adopted this policy for years with the consent of both Athens and Nicosia. The real problem is that Ankara is trying to give economic aid to the Turkish-Cypriot population not through the internationally recognized government in the south but directly through the breakaway state. Moscow does not seem to have changed its stance on this issue, nor do Putin’s comments suggest a policy shift. That said, we do not mean to defend Moscow’s policy, which after all serves Russia’s own interests. Reference to this unfortunate incident is being made because certain circles insist on downgrading the cooperation between Costas Karamanlis and his Russian counterpart, particularly in the energy sector. Make no mistake, Greece belongs firmly in the Western security framework and any decision to move away from it would be disastrous. But that does not mean that Athens should not cultivate ties with third countries, just as most of our EU and NATO peers do. Demonizing big powers like the US or Russia is simply a sign of political immaturity.