The American ambassador in Nicosia praised the Republic of Cyprus over the weekend for endorsing sanctions against Russia, saying broad support for Ukraine shows unity among allies, but a proposed visa ban on Russians still remains a controversial issue as EU foreign ministers meet this week.
In an article marking Ukraine’s independence last week, US ambassador to Cyprus Judy Garber also pointed out it was six months since Moscow “launched its unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”
Garber said Moscow’s attack was “so shocking” that it “launched an unprecedented global sanctions campaign against Russia for its actions,” adding that the closure of ports to Russian vessels across the European Union including Cyprus was spurred by Russia’s actions in late February.
A week after Russian troops launched their incursion on February 24, Nicosia said it would deny Russian ships entry into ports of the Republic of Cyprus.
Russian ships always had access to Cypriot ports with Moscow over the years seeking stronger ties with some European countries including Cyprus, which signed up for more military cooperation with Moscow back in 2015.
But in early March the island’s foreign ministry scrapped the agreement citing the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Cyprus in the past appeared reluctant to implement actions against Russia but Garber believes the war in Ukraine made a difference
Two years ago Cyprus was in a similar diplomatic pickle after US officials urged the island to follow through with a promise to ban Russian naval ships.
In November 2020, the Cypriots were reminded of conditions for the lifting of a US arms embargo, which included more “assurances about their ability to deny port access to Russian naval vessels.”
The remarks prompted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova to take on Twitter to argue that US demands on Cyprus were “contrary to the inalienable right of states to an independent foreign policy.”
“It is not the first time that Washington has conditioned better relations with countries on the curtailment of their cooperation with Russia,” Zakharova had said at the time.
Cyprus in the past appeared reluctant to implement actions against Russia.
But Garber believes the war in Ukraine made a difference, saying in her piece over the weekend that “the resilience and tenacity of Ukraine has inspired the world to support their fight for freedom.”
"Despite six months of death and destruction, Ukraine still stands. The United States and Cyprus stand with it," the ambassador wrote.
Garber also said Cyprus’ support in the efforts and sanctions against Russia, along with Ukrainians who have sought refuge on the island, “demonstrates its unwavering commitment to international rule of law and democratic principles.”
The ambassador also praised coordinated financial sanctions against Moscow, which has been resisting efforts by western allies to strike the Russian economy.
Garber argued that economists were predicting that “in the longer term, as sanctions are expanded and tightened, the Russian government will run out of stalling tactics and the true costs of its actions will become painfully real to its people.”
Cyprus still concerned over blanket sanctions
But there have been some dissenting voices in Cyprus about ditching the Russians altogether, with experts pointing out that the island -a popular destination for Russians- would continue to feel the impact of less business and tourism from the former Soviet country.
Cyprus has also joined a number of other countries earlier this month that opposed a ban on Russian visas, a move suggested by Kiev but described as a “wrong direction” by Cypriot foreign ministry director Kornelios Korneliou.
The Cypriot official said Nicosia did not consider that such a measure would not be meaningful for Russians, many of whom live on the island and overall accounted for a quarter of inbound tourists before the war in Ukraine.
“We shouldn't prevent these communities from coming into contact with families and friends,” Korneliou told Politico, adding that the “main weapon is European unity and our partners should respect the sensitivities of others on this issue.”
The US ambassador maintains that broad support for Ukraine, from Washington all the way to Nicosia, has shown that “United States and its allies and partners around the world are more united than ever.”
EU foreign ministers are set to meet this week to debate the visa ban but they are unlikely to unanimously back the measure for all Russian citizens.
“We will continue to stand with Ukraine and support its fight for survival while also working to bolster European security and democratic values,” Garber said.