The outgoing President’s Cabinet in the Republic of Cyprus has approved the purchase of lethal weaponry from the United States just days before a highly contested runoff election on the island, which is also expected to receive attack helicopters this year after a controversial decision in Berlin.
Local media said the Cabinet led by outgoing President Nicos Anastasiades approved on Tuesday the purchase of American lethal weapons, months after Washington decided to remove completely a partial ban on the island.
Details were not immediately known but state broadcaster RIK reported that “major weapon systems” worth several millions were covered by the state’s defense budget and expected to be delivered late this year.
This week US Senator Bob Menendez, a known ally of Greece and Cyprus, praised Nicosia’s commitment to block Russian naval ships from Cypriot ports, a condition put by Washington in order to lift a US arms embargo on lethal weapons to the island.
'Cyprus did several important things, including stopping Russian ships from coming to port before the invasion' Menendez said
The senator, who also who chairs the Foreign Relations committee, suggested to an audience during a Delphi Economic Forum in Washington on Tuesday that Cyprus was not going to “buy a ton of offensive or defensive equipment, but it was very important to recognize Cyprus’ right to do so.”
“Cyprus did several important things, including stopping Russian ships from coming to port before the invasion,” Menendez said.
The decision came a day after reports said Berlin had approved the sale of Airbus attack helicopters to Nicosia.
German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the Greek Cypriot National Guard was expected to receive a dozen H145M-type light attack helicopters that can be used for transport as well as combat and surveillance.
According to RIK, the first batch would include six helicopters just before springtime or by early summer, while the rest of the aircraft would be delivered the following year.
German political opposition from the left has slammed Chancellor Olaf Scholz, accusing his coalition government of fueling conflicts around the world with what they described as controversial deals.
“The only beneficiary of this policy is the German weapons industry,” the opposition said in a statement.
Ukraine equation still unclear
Nicosia has been keeping weapons deals on the down low following rumors that Greek Cypriots were seeking German Leopards in exchange for Russian tanks to Kiev.
Last year Anastasiades said his country would not send weapons directly to Ukraine. But the outgoing president also did not rule out swap deals through third countries that were willing to replace Russian-made systems with modern armaments.
Cypriot Defense Minister Charalambos Petrides echoed the president’s statement last month when he declared the Mediterranean country would not be stuck with military equipment of the past, referring to outdated Russian equipment currently sought by Kiev.
Washington has 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.
But western nations have been under pressure to provide modern armaments to Kiev, fueling rumors of swap deals across the western world.
Last October it emerged that Athens had already received a small batch of German infantry fighting vehicles in what was reported as a swap deal between the two countries to assist Ukraine, fueling further rumors that a similar arrangement was in the works in Nicosia, which was also after German Leopard tanks only from Athens according to a popular army blog site.
The Cabinet’s decision comes days before a highly contested runoff presidential election on Sunday between two career diplomats, a left-backed former UN ambassador and a center-backed former foreign minister.