THE OFFICIAL visit of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, accompanied by a host of ministers and officials, to Turkey last Monday did not receive very much coverage in the Cyprus media. Some newspapers did not deem it newsworthy enough to carry even a brief report about it. Nor did the political parties, which issue half a dozen announcements a day about the most trivial issues, consider such high profile visit important enough to say anything about it.
Even if they ignored Putin’s proposal for a deeper energy co-operation with Turkey that would involve a new gas pipeline with a capacity of 63 billion cubic metres and the creation of an energy hub on the Greek-Turkish border, they should have said something about his remarks regarding Cyprus. Ahead of the visit, Putin was quoted in the Turkish press as saying that “neither the Russian state nor the energy ministry are involved in any gas projects in Cyprus.” He added: “It is up to private companies to deal with the process, if there is one. They need to know that it will be their own responsibility to deal with any crisis and risks there.”
Had a US official expressed such a view, the parties would have been competing over who would have issued the strongest-worded announcement to condemn the “provocative and unacceptable” comments that condoned the violation of Cypriot EEZ by Turkey. But they do not mind Putin being so blasé about “crisis and risks” that Turkey could cause to gas projects there. He could not have made it clearer that Russia had no interest in what was happening in the Cypriot EEZ. Asked about the matter yesterday, the government spokesman, Nicos Christodoulides said that the Russian embassy had been contacted to establish whether the comments were accurate.
The parties and newspaper commentators stayed silent because the myth they had been peddling for years about Russia’s unwavering support for Cyprus had been exposed for what it was. They could not now admit that they had been selling a fairy-tale to people, or that their understanding of international relations was so poor that they could not see the blatantly obvious – Russia would not jeopardise its second biggest market for natural gas, after Germany, for tiny and inconsequential Cyprus. Only a complete fool or a Cypriot politician could not see how important Turkey is for Russia.
Now it is even more important than it was a year ago. The fallout with the EU over the Ukraine crisis has led Putin to scrap the South Stream pipeline and propose a new pipeline, with the same capacity, using Turkey as the transit country. As a sweetener, Putin announced lowering the price of gas supplied to Turkey by 6 per cent from next year. Add to this trade worth $35bn, which the two countries want to increase to €100bn by the 2020s, and the construction of a nuclear power station in Turkey by Russia, worth €20bn, and it becomes painfully obvious that our politicians have been taking us for a ride, claiming that we can always rely on Moscow’s support.