South agrees to Russian military’s use of Paphos airbase

South Cyprus has agreed to allow Russian military aircraft to use the Andreas Papandreou military airbase near Paphos, as well as opening Limassol port to its naval vessels.

Russia had requested permanent sites at the airbase for military purposes.

However, Defence Minister Photis Photiou submitted a proposal, in agreement with the Foreign Ministry, that initial use of the base would be limited to aircraft for humanitarian and emergency situations. The Russian air force will not be allowed to use storage facilities at the base.

After the South Cyprus Cabinet gave its agreement, Photiou said the Paphos airbase was part of a plan for the country’s armed forces and highlighted the importance of maintaining the growing geostrategic and geopolitical importance of Cyprus which can play a stabilising role in the region.

The use of the airbase as well as the docking of Russian naval vessels at Limassol port were discussed at meetings held in Moscow between the South Cyprus defence and foreign ministers and their Russian counterparts in May and June 2013.

As it stands, a Russian presence in the region is only made possible by the survival of the Assad government, with Moscow still hanging on to their personnel from the Tartus naval base in Syria.

Observers have long predicted that Russia has been using diplomacy to establish a military foothold in South Cyprus – after the fallout to Russian depositors from the March 2013 bailout soured relations, followed by Russian reluctance to restructure Moscow’s 2.5bn euro loan to Nicosia.

Last May, three Russian navy warships, which were part of a flotilla sailing in the Mediterranean Sea, docked at the new port of Limassol.

At the time, the Defence Minister said that (South) Cyprus and Russia enjoy historical, long-standing and very close relations, noting that “Russia is a firm supporter of Cyprus in the Security Council of the United Nations as regards our national issue.”

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