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Cyprus: Russian Military Base

Volume 760: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Governments of the Republic of Cyprus and other European Union member states about the proposal to establish a Russian military base on Cyprus.

My Lords, we have been and remain in regular discussion with the Republic of Cyprus about security and defence matters, and have been briefed on the agreement signed in Moscow. The Cypriot Government have assured us that these agreements represent a continuation of existing arrangements. We continually stress to our EU partners the need for EU unity in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The fact is that, in return for debt relief, Cyprus has formalised an agreement to let Russian warships use its ports. There is also talk of use of an airbase at Paphos, which is 40 miles from our base at Akrotiri. President Putin has said that this deal should not cause any worries anywhere. Does the Minister agree with President Putin or does she agree with the United States State Department’s comment on the Cyprus deal that now is not the time to be doing business as normal with Russia?

My Lords, I have made it clear in this House before that it cannot be business as usual with Russia while it maintains its position over Ukraine, where it has illegally annexed the Crimea and intervened in another state’s sovereign lands. My noble friend refers to a situation in the Republic of Cyprus that I do not recognise. When speaking to Russian media, President Anastasiades explicitly ruled out the use of Limassol port for military purposes. Foreign Minister Kasoulides also said to the press, after the February EU Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in Brussels, that there was no question of Russian air or naval military bases on the soil of Cyprus. It is a continuation of existing agreements.

In the light of this decision, the visit of President Anastasiades to Moscow, the policies of the new Greek Government and the policy of the Government of Hungary, are the Government concerned about the consensus on Ukraine among the EU countries that remain?

My Lords, it is important that the EU maintains the consensus that it has heretofore. We have, as the European Union, shown remarkable unity throughout the crisis in standing up to Russian aggression and protecting the EU’s interests. For example, the UK has supported NATO allies, demonstrating our commitment at last September’s summit by agreeing to the readiness action plan to enhance NATO’s response to a wide range of threats. There will be an opportunity very soon, at the European Council, for the EU to show the maintenance of its unity over sanctions.

My Lords, is it not a fact that Mr Cameron made an arbitrary decision when President Anastasiades visited the United Kingdom in January 2014 that the Greek Cypriots would have the right of development within our sovereign base areas? The MoD and the FCO appear not to have been involved in any strategic input. Is that not so, and when are the Government likely to retreat from their current pseudo-presidential tendencies back to proper corporate government?

My Lords, the visit of President Anastasiades to London in January 2014 and the arrangement on non-military development reaffirmed the strong bonds of friendship and partnership which exist between Cyprus and the UK across many areas, notably defence, security, EU reform and foreign policy co-operation. Non-military development is a further measure of the normalisation of administrative planning laws and shows that the United Kingdom and Cyprus are serious about working together on our shared interests.

The Minister rightly talks about the need to maintain EU solidarity on sanctions against Russia, but this solidarity is threatened by at least a quartet of EU leaders from Hungary, Greece, Cyprus and, indeed, Italy. What efforts is the UK making to maintain and forge, if necessary, renewed solidarity? Can she refute press allegations that the UK is being reticent about further financial sanctions because of lobbying by the City of London?

My Lords, the United Kingdom has led the way in negotiating sanctions against Russia for its illegal activity. We continue to do so; we are not deflected from that course. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that he would like an early rollover of sanctions on 20 March. We are doing our best to negotiate with all our colleagues to maintain the resolve of unity within the EU on these matters.

Does the Minister agree that it might be useful to say to the Government of Cyprus that President Putin’s policy in the south-east of Ukraine bears a striking resemblance to the creation of the TRNC—which, I believe, is not supported by the Russian Government?

My Lords, the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, about what efforts Her Majesty’s Government are making to ensure that as far as possible our EU partners are speaking with one voice in relation to events in Ukraine, deserves an answer from the Minister. I know she will give one. Perhaps I may also ask about our NATO allies. What efforts are we making to ensure that NATO allies are speaking with one voice on these difficult matters?

My Lords, we are clearly straying somewhat from the main thrust of the Question with regard to the Republic of Cyprus, but it is an important matter. I have already said that we shall be leading the way in stating that it is important to roll over the tier 3 sanctions on 20 March. That is the case, and negotiations have been going ahead, clearly, across a range of our allies, and with regard to all those who have an interest in maintaining sanctions on Russia. I am perfectly well aware of the ability of President Putin to try to destabilise what appears to be the most unified of groups. I referred to the fact that he is very adept at using smoke and mirrors. It is time that we made it clear that we do not use those tactics; we are straight talking.