Big Mike throws a Cyprus curveball

6 mins read

Contrary to belief, the universe does revolve around Cyprus, I don’t know how it came to this, but you won’t discover the reason using quantum physics.

Soon after I warned that Cyprus could unwittingly embroil itself in a new Cold War than two big political hitters swooped down on Nicosia in the same week.

You wait six decades to be taken seriously then two superpowers visit in the space of four days.

No sooner had Nicosia waved goodbye to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov than US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced an unscheduled stop while in the neighbourhood (Doha) on Saturday.

Washington felt uneasy about Russia flexing its muscles with a high-profile official visit to underscore a long-standing bilateral relationship since Cyprus stepped on the international stage as an independent country.

Lavrov also came to do some deals and wrap up an avoidance of double taxation treaty that Moscow had threatened to tear up, causing unease among Cyprus-based Russian businesses.

In the end, there was some give-and-take and the accord was signed but what else did Lavrov come away with in his diplomatic pouch?

His visit came hot on the heels of Washington partially lifting a 33-year-old arms embargo on Cyprus as it welcomed Nicosia back in the fold as a trusted regional partner.

Of course, there are strings attached.

As America reengages in the East Med in an energy and security partnership with Cyprus, Greece, and Israel it expects some gratitude in return.

Akin to asking the Godfather for a ‘favour’.

This is a transactional endeavour, the ‘favour’ must be reciprocated when the request comes.

It cannot be refused, although the invitation to make good on it may never come (unlikely).

And the Americans made it crystal clear that being granted “friend” status comes with responsibilities such as not facilitating Russian warships at Cypriot ports.

Moreover, Washington wants to dilute the Russian influence in Cyprus and get this ship sailing in the right direction.

Understandably, Cyprus will find it hard to refuse American demands while not wanting to agitate Moscow as it tries to roll the political dice for a winning formula.

Becoming the plaything of superpower diplomacy is a rather different board game than the skills required to move around the corridors in Brussels.

When Lavrov declared to the world he would play peacemaker to resolve the East Med showdown – as long as everybody was happy to consult international law books – alarms sounded at the State Department.

As the dust cleared, it was the turn of the White House to make a grand statement of intent.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced he was going to hop off his jet to make a Cyprus social call to settle the matter once and for all.


And when Big Mike speaks, he’s not going to engage in political foreplay.

No, when he comes out to bat that sucker is going to be smashed outside the ballpark.

There is no first base with Mike – this is no European namby-pamby show where everyone has feelings – this is showtime to get the job done.

Even before he touches down on Saturday evening, Mike has told Turkey to put their guns back in the box he provided for them.

Mike wants Cyprus to feel love, he wants to prove that he can get a handle on Turkey’s bullish stance in the East Med and make it all go away.

The US is going to demonstrate that when it comes to a results-orientated business the Russians are not in their league.

France has seen a gap in the credibility market when it comes to regional attention.

President Macron hasn’t wasted time in sending military assets to patrol the waters off Cyprus while telling Turkey to behave or they will get a rocket full of EU sanctions.

Ankara simply treats such bravado as a remake of Toy Story with French actors.

The preview audience walked out half-way through the movie when the Tom Hanks voice-over was replaced by a Parisian cowboy.

Turkey may be able to shutdown Macron and his free-spirited EU colleagues but Mike is a different story.

Pompeo is coming to listen to the Cypriot folks.

He knows the rules are slightly different here, but everybody loves a curveball, that’s what Nicosia will be telling him to throw.

If he scuttles the Turkish threat from Cyprus waters with a decent throw then the Russians will have something to worry about in the battle for supremacy.