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Russian ‘smoking gun’ backfires

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The fire at the Russian Cultural Centre in Nicosia, which destroyed part of the new cladding of the building under repair, was an unfortunate incident and a case of human incompetence, as evidence apparently points to a construction work accident.

However, diplomats jumped the gun and were eager to cry wolf, spreading fear that it was a terrorist incident to throw the already fragile Cyprus-Russia relations into greater jeopardy.

Initial reports blasted across state-controlled Russian media referred to Molotov cocktails being hurled at the building, that the interior was ablaze and that a white van had been suspiciously circling the area for the past few days.

On the latter point, the area is a high-density residential with office blocks, private and public, suggesting that access to any office, shop or home in the neighbourhood would be next to impossible.

Hence, the suspicious white van was probably circling around, desperate to find a parking place.

The fire service and the police quickly refuted the fiery claim of terrorists hurling Molotov cocktails, as the construction workers in question were careless, especially when working in an area piled up with flammable material.

Naturally, this development was not carried by Russian media.

As regards the damage, this was mostly to the exterior, although the fire service said that the interior of the main theatre contained smoke, which will probably be difficult to clear.

With the situation and causes changing dramatically, diplomats quickly took advantage to convey the message that they remain strong in the face of threats, whether from so-called terrorists or others.

At best, this is probably a media opportunity turned sour that has simply backfired.

Quite the contrary, Russian diplomats in Cyprus have now lost what little esteem they carried in local society, as being sensationalist and with no regard to what is going on in the world and how their invasion of Ukraine has impacted the livelihood of every Cypriot and the rest of the world.

Perhaps, a dose of humility would be better.

Especially as diplomats normally tend to be frugal with their words.

Then again, the best spin to the whole story would be how a fire not investigated properly can damage diplomatic relations.