A Nicosia professor says Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades’ decision to snub Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the last minute was “unwise” and a "missed opportunity" after hearing the government spokesperson on state radio citing guidelines from Brussels.
Anastasiades, who was expected to meet Lavrov on Wednesday night in New York City, cancelled the meeting at the last minute. Days prior, the two men had been scheduled to get together on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
But Greek Cypriot reporters who were trying to confirm details and get an explanation late Wednesday night were unable to hear details from officials until government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos emerged on state radio Thursday morning and said the meeting was canceled based on EU guidelines following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s address to the nation.
"In anticipation of the decisions of the EU, guidelines from Brussels on avoiding bilateral meetings with Russia were followed," Pelekanos said.
Putin on Wednesday announced a partial military mobilization in response to western military support for Ukraine, accusing western capitals of blocking peace negotiations.
“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said, adding “this not a bluff.”
'President Anastasiades did not size things up, he missed an opportunity to state clearly his position on the Russian invasion in Ukraine... and promote Cyprus issues within Nicosia-Moscow relations'
Following Putin’s speech, EU foreign ministers including Cyprus’ Ioannis Kasoulides held an impromptu meeting in New York, with the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell taking to Twitter to summarize a common response.
"Tonight, I am convening EU Foreign Ministers, gathered for UN General Assembly in New York, to agree on our line," Borrell said.
But a local political scientist George Kentas says the decision to cancel the meeting was “unwise” and suggests there was no basis for that choice.
Kentas, who teaches at the University of Nicosia, took to Facebook after the radio comments and blasted the explanation as “a joke, even in the diplomatic sense.”
“Brussels do not give out instructions to member states regarding their bilateral meetings,” said the professor who also served on the Cyprus Academy of Security, Defense, and Crisis Management board.
“President Anastasiades did not size things up and missed a unique opportunity to state clearly his position on the Russian invasion in Ukraine, support the position of the EU and Cyprus that no violation of international law is acceptable, and promote Cyprus issues within Nicosia-Moscow relations,” Kentas said.
The professor argued that Moscow understood Nicosia had an “obligation to freeze parts of its bilateral relations with Russia, impose sanctions, and be strict, but there is also the next day.”
Kentas said Anastasiades could have been the only EU leader who would be talking to Russia and relay EU positions clearly.
“Why should Turkey get this interlocutor exclusivity as a freebie?” he asked.
Kentas pointed out that the Cypriot president was also expected to seek clarification from Lavrov on Moscow’s position regarding rumors of direct flights to the northern part of Cyprus, a development that would be anathema to the Greek Cypriot south on the divided island.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday was quoted as saying that he had spoken with Putin about starting direct flights from Russia to the north.
Moscow maintains it has not been part of any talks about direct flights.
"If direct flights start from Russia to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, we will of course be pleased," Erdogan was quoted as saying by Turkish network NTV.
Turkish media also reported that Turkish Cypriot officials spoke about two Russian airlines that were interested in starting flights to Ercan, north Nicosia’s airport where a new terminal is expected to open in November. Ercan is not a recognized port of entry by the Republic of Cyprus but operates international flights through Turkey.
Kentas said the leadership of the Republic of Cyprus “appears yet again not to appreciate that it has to defend its interests.”
“Canceling a meeting is not a simple act, it is a political statement and it goes without saying that it is offensive to the other side,” Kentas said.