Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has clarified that his country will not send weapons directly to Ukraine, but the commander-in-chief did not rule out a swap through a third country that was willing to replace Russian-made systems with modern armaments.
Anastasiades was asked on Thursday by a reporter outside a sports club in Nicosia to comment on political opposition parties that have been reacting to a piece by The New York Times regarding Cyprus being seen as a special window to arming Ukraine.
“Let me reassure, we are not going to send weapons to Ukraine,” Anastasiades said.
The NYT article cited an anonymous source that suggested defense discussions in recent months between Cypriot and American officials had touched on Ukraine, which is desperately seeking Russian-made defense systems such as Cyprus’ Tor-M1 and Buk-M1 missile batteries.
'If there is a country that wants to replace our armaments with modern and equivalent systems that could be part of a decisive deterrent force, then this is something completely different'
Political opposition reacted to the article saying it would be a bad idea for divided Cyprus to transfer weapons to Kiev and anger Moscow, which sits permanently on the UN Security Council.
The president reiterated his government’s publicly-stated position that Nicosia was not going to give away its defense systems that were needed to act as a deterrent on the island, where Turkish troops are stationed in the breakaway north.
“What I want to say is that Cyprus is semi-occupied and has a need for defensive armoring and therefore we cannot survive without defensive armoring,” Anastasiades said.
But Nicosia has not ruled out a work around by which its Russian-made defense systems could end up in Ukraine after being replaced by equivalent and modern batteries, as long as old systems would be exchanged with a third country and not directly with Kiev.
“If there is a country that wants to replace our armaments with modern and equivalent systems that could be part of a decisive deterrent force, then this is something completely different,” Anastasiades said.
“It is out of the question for us, by ourselves, to send [weapons] to Ukraine,” the president added.
Media reports suggested back in April US officials began sounding out Nicosia to see whether Cyprus would be willing to consider a transfer scheme.
Washington had been calling on countries to provide Ukraine with Russian-made weapons in order to make it easier for Ukrainian soldiers familiar with Soviet-era systems to hit the ground running as they fight the Russians.
Nicosia reportedly hinted at being opened up to the possibility of sending weapons as Washington was considering a complete lift of an arms embargo on the Republic of Cyprus.
Two weeks ago US President Joe Biden ordered the embargo to be fully removed, essentially allowing Cypriots to buy American lethal weapons, and remain lifted as long as certain conditions aimed at keeping Russian influence at bay were being met by Nicosia.
NATO and the European Union have reportedly been kept in the loop over Cyprus' defense systems wanted by Ukraine.
On Wednesday NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said allies have provided air defense but more was needed, confirming rumors that non-NATO countries were still being asked to chip in.
“We need different types of air defense, different systems for different tasks,” Stoltenberg said.