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Cyprus Editorial: Bring back the S300s

05 February, 2014 | Posted By: Financial Mirror

The latest provocation by Turkey within the Cyprus EEZ goes to show how much arrogance Ankara can get away with and how stupid our EU partners can be.
The only time that Cyprus was ever taken seriously was in January 1997 when President Clerides pushed for the S-300 air defence missile system. For sure, the 32 missiles would have hardly prevented an all-out strike by Turkey’s mighty air force, with its expendable aircraft and pilots outnumbering our missiles ten to one, but the political thinking at the time was very right, despite Clerides’ coalition partners pissing in their pants and cowering out of the government.
The air defence system would have been the ace up our negotiating sleeve and not an offensive tool. We knew it. Turkey knew it. Russia knew it. The others didn’t want to know.
Then-government spokesman Ioannis Kasoulides said that Cyprus had a legitimate right to enhance its defence capabilities, to which, of course, Turkey responded by saying that such an action would undermine peace in the region. What an oxymoron.
Turkey remains the biggest bully in the region, stoking trouble in Syria and Iraq, trying (and failing) to play a key role in the Arab Spring and hoping to one day mend relations with Israel and Iran.
Cyprus has been too nice to its EU partners for too long. It cannot rely on Catherine Ashton, because she’s more keen in hopping on a plane and going to wherever the U.S. Secretary of State sends her rather than looking after the legitimate interests of the E.U.
Britain has thrown us a bone to chew by scaling down its civilian rule within the bases and sticking to a military role. Germany has realised that Turkey is a bigger headache than it thinks, but it dares not do anything for fear of upsetting the millions of workers who have planted their roots there.
Then there are Turkey’s NATO allies, such as Spain, Poland, Italy and the occasional Benelux state, who will follow to the word whatever order Anders Fogh Rasmussen will give them. And of course the French can change face as quickly as you can say ‘Hollande.’
And then we have Denmark. The country that has been in the limelight for its role in collecting and transporting Syria’s chemical weapons. Do the Danes care what happens in Aleppo or Damascus? Hardly. But they also seem to forget how humiliated their peacekeepers have been in Cyprus, often having to beg the Turkish commanders for permission to leave their camps in Xeros or Famagusta. The Austrians, too, have a short memory. It’s a shame the three soldiers killed by Turkish napalm in 1974 lie forgotten in an out-of-the-way grave.
Cyprus spent about 400 mln euros for the S300 batteries and missiles that ended up collecting dust and rust in Crete. Since then, governments have wasted ten times that amount to prop up the busted banks and the corrupt civil service.
If Cyprus wants to become a serious player in the regional natgas market, it should first beef up its defence to prevent the Turkish provocations that could push investors away.
Aerial exercises by Greek or Israel fighters have no use, because the generals in Ankara know full well that these are nothing more than a publicity stunt.
We have suggested this in the past and will repeat it again until it gets through our politicians’ deaf ears. Greece pulled out its frigate from the European naval defence off Somalia simply because it was costing Athens 50 mln euros a year.
Surely, if we cut our civil servants’ salaries we too can come up with the 50 mln. In which case we lease a fully operational frigate, just to patrol our seas.
And if that doesn’t work, we go back to the Russians for the new S400 system. If we can’t afford it, we’ll give them the Bank of Cyprus as barter. It’s almost theirs, anyway.