A recent development in the Eastern Mediterranean may have escaped notice in the U.S. media but is potentially important with respect to Western efforts to pressure Syrian President Assad into departing the scene and Russia’s intransigence in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). 

It is clear to all observers that the Russian reluctance to turn against Assad is related above all to the presence of a Russian naval facility at the Syrian port of Tartus, the only such Russian facility in the Mediterranean and, therefore, of paramount importance to Moscow.  Whether because of a change of heart in the Kremlin (not likely) or growing recognition that Assad simply cannot last forever, the Russians may be searching for an alternative.  In any case, last week saw the docking at the Cypriot port of Limassol of two Russian Black Sea Fleet warships, the first such occurrence in more than a decade, setting off speculation that Moscow may be resigned to losing its base in Syria in the event of Assad’s downfall and determined to keep its naval presence in the area.

With two members of the UNSC also members of the European Union, it is more than intriguing to note that Cyprus began its first term in the rotating EU Presidency this month.  One cannot say with certainty whether Cyprus sought and secured the concurrence of its EU partners, and, perhaps, the United States, before opening its major port to the Russian ships, but one can safely assume that Nicosia did not make the move without multiple consultations.  Moreover, it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that substantial Russian financial assistance to Cyprus, as the latter struggles to remain in the EuroZone, is contingent upon Cypriot cooperation in the matter.  

It must be added that Russian support for the UNSC action it has been opposing would still leave China’s objections to be dealt with but from a position of greater strength.  Finally, one can only speculate on the reaction of Turkey, firmly opposed to Assad and the refuge of choice for Syrian freedom fighters and military defectors alike.  Russian use of Limassol, in addition to the issues discussed above, underscores the Kremlin’s continuing refusal, along with the entire international community, to recognize the Turkish-created so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and, therefore, to use its port of  Famagusta.


  1. harry61 July 26, 2012 / 9:30 AM

    Well said Paul. The US now have an interest in Cyprus. Where were all 38 years ago. As a dual citizen,I’d welcome Russia before the two faced jackal’s (US). In with Russia and god help the Turks. We want our country back!

  2. Paul July 25, 2012 / 8:58 PM

    …not to mention the world-class hydrocarbon deposits recently found in Cyprus and Israel’s EEZs, which the US would like to see used to create an alternate energy source apart from Russia for the energy-hungry EU, and which Turkey would love to get their hands on via gunboat diplomacy…

  3. Harry C. Blaney III July 25, 2012 / 4:16 PM

    Alan Berlind, has added with his fascinating post even more complexity to the Syria problem with Cyprus, especially adding Russia, EU, and Turkey and perhaps the US and the whole conundrum of the Middle East problem.

    It seems that Russia, a topic we have looked at earlier and will soon again, is again putting itself into a dead end long-term strategic situation, choosing allies, as seems its wont, some of the worst national actors and most pariah states it can find.

    Mr. Berlind is likely right that the Assad regime is not likely to last and so its odd that President Putin still is backing the walking dead. Yet Alan’s thought that it is thinking beyond Assad is intriguing but the question is how the EU, NATO, Greece, and even Turkey might view a long-term Russian naval base set in a EU member with its new security and foreign policy institution and mandate, and close to Turkey a NATO member, and US Mediterranean bases. It seems things get messier and messier!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s