Turkish media are citing information that Turkish Cypriots could be closer to getting direct flights between Russia and north Nicosia, an otherwise politically unworkable task due to the division of the island that has come under challenge in recent years.
Milliyet reported on Tuesday that it has learned negotiations between a Russian tour operator and the Turkish Cypriot administration could yield an agreement for direct flights between Russia and Ercan, north Nicosia’s airport that remains officially unrecognized by the Republic of Cyprus.
The newspaper, Turkey’s Istanbul-based progressive daily, cited diplomatic sources suggesting Russian commercial flights would “soon be carried out directly between Russia and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” adding this could be achieved possibly through a tour operator but also in the interest of the Kremlin.
While the north is not recognized by any country except Turkey, Ercan has been operating with inbound and outbound international flights going through Turkey. Repeated efforts to legitimatize the airport internationally have been blocked by the Greek Cypriot south in the Republic of Cyprus, a UN and EU member that has not designated the airstrip as a Port of Entry.
But according to Milliyet, the first flight from Russia to the north was now in the works and Turkish Cypriot were scambling to make things ready in time for the inaugural opening of the new Ercan terminal later this year.
As relations between Moscow and Nicosia deteriorated, it was announced that Russia's incoming ambassador would also be Muslim, in sharp contrast with his predecessor who is Eastern Orthodox
Milliyet says the endeavor has been ongoing in the north but it has been made less difficult after the Greek Cypriots lost their Russian tourist influx due to the south’s stance in the war in Ukraine and support for sanctions against Moscow.
Earlier this year, a week after Russian troops entered eastern Ukraine, Nicosia heeded Washington’s long standing request to deny access to Russian ships, angering Moscow that accused the Greek Cypriots of violating an explicit 2015 agreement.
As relations between the Kremlin and Nicosia further deteriorated, it was announced last week that the incoming ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus would be Murat Zyazikov, a Russian diplomat who is also Muslim, in sharp contrast with his predecessor, Stanislav Osadchiy who is an Eastern Orthodox Christian.
Milliyet says Turkish Cypriots hope the new developments would pave the way for recognition, citing Hasan Unal, an international relations professor at Istanbul's Maltepe University.
"I see this as a first step towards Russia's recognition of the TRNC and I attach great importance to it," Unal said.
But the academic also told Milliyet that establishing direct flights along with what he described as “the process of recognizing the TRNC” were not based on the Kremlin’s anger towards Greeks but was “a strategic” decision on infrastructure.
Unal pointed out that the north has been challenging the south’s claims on internationally-recognized airspace of the Republic of Cyprus, saying Turkey was also reacting to Greek and Greek Cypriot attempts to “militarize the crisis.”
Greek Cypriot politicians have been debating whether Nicosia should strive to maintain a more neutral position between East and West, following recent news that Washington was lifting an arms embargo on Cyprus as a response to Nicosia blocking Russian ships, a measure that will be on review by the White House at least once a year.
The ruling conservative party Dysi has supported President Nicos Anastasiades and his ministers in siding with the European Union against Russia, while left opposition argued the divided island ought not to be forced to make a choice.
Dysi’s former finance minister Harris Georgiades told state radio on Tuesday morning that Cyprus had a “clear choice” with the West.