U.S. could thwart Turkey, Russia and China in E. Med by lifting Cyprus arms embargo - scholars

The United States could set back Russia, China and Turkey’s plans in the Middle East by lifting an arms embargo on the Greek Republic of Cyprus, two senior scholars from the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies wrote in an op-ed published by the Hill on Wednesday.

“At the same time, it can strengthen a bilateral relationship with a democratic, European ally and enhance our defense supply base, as well”, wrote FDD vice president Jonathan Schanzer and the senior director for the Foundation’s Center on Military and Political Power, Bradley Bowman. 

The Greek administration has controlled the southern two thirds of the island since it split following a coup d’etat by Greek nationalists in 1974. Turkey launched an invasion in response, and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot republic unilaterally declared its establishment in 1983.

While Washington has been bound by international restrictions preventing arms sales to the Greek Cypriot administration, Moscow has been supplying the republic with arms for years, and has reaped the benefits as the island assented to Russian military vessels using the island for its operations in Syria, Schanzer and Bowman wrote. 

Cyprus has also become “a safe haven for Russian money laundering and oligarchs, who reportedly have gained Cypriot citizenship in under six months in exchange for investing two million euros”, they said.

China, too, has been cultivating ties with the Greek Cypriot administration, leading to Beijing’s definition of Nicosia as a “strategic partner”. 

With a bipartisan amendment to lift the arms embargo recently introduced in Washington, the United States has a golden opportunity to improve its relations with Nicosia on the condition that it tones down its cooperation with the U.S. rivals in Beijing and Moscow, the FDD scholars said.

Lifting the arms embargo would have the added benefit of discouraging Turkish aggression in the eastern Mediterranean, where the discovery of hydrocarbon resources near Cyprus has stoked tensions between Ankara and Nicosia.

Turkey rejects the Greek Cypriot administration’s exploitation of the hydrocarbon wealth around the island on the basis that this infringes on Turkish Cypriots’ rights to the island’s resources.

This week, a Turkish drilling vessel entered an area within the Exclusive Economic Zone claimed by Greek Cyprus, prompting the Cypriot authorities to warn the crew it was moving to issue them with international arrest warrants.

U.S. military equipment including radars, vessels and helicopters could help Nicosia “protect its newfound energy wealth offshore”, the FDD scholars said.