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Playing the long game

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With only weeks away from the festive holiday splash, Cypriots are not in the party mood as they shy from the Black Friday ‘giveaways’ and keep their pockets zipped.

There hasn’t been much to cheer about this year even though we got a new government, but perennial problems persist.

Cyprus is still tarred with the corruption brush with international probes exposing the country as a sanction-busting refuge for Russian billionaires.

Banks have done nothing to improve their post-crisis reputation during a cost-of-living crunch where energy bills and food shopping are financial torture.

Those institutions that lost your savings are not offering easy loans but making profits on high-interest rates that make mortgages prohibitive.

Inflation is cooling, and jobs are available, but salaries remain low, with private companies paying for the largesse of public employees.

Such a scenario will unlikely change in the New Year, while house prices and rents only look skyward.

The government has attempted to stem the cost of living by subsidising petrol and electricity price cuts while boosting pensions.

But property prices are out of control, as is the rent market, with the authorities struggling to provide affordable housing.

To take people’s minds off the economy – which is chugging along – the government has launched a campaign to make it popular abroad.

It has to do something while the Cyprus problem stagnates in the inertia of both sides and the failed bid to appoint a UN envoy to uproot the weeds that have grown since the leaders last met (2017).

Nicosia’s mission has been to badger the EU to show some initiative during the Middle East crisis as Israel tries to destroy Hamas after the October 7 massacre.

The government saw an opportunity to make itself useful as the EU country closest to the regional conflict and offer concrete support to ship humanitarian aid to Gaza.

What could possibly go wrong?

Frozen

Cyprus earns kudos for helping Brussels out when it was caught frozen in headlights after the Hamas attacks and Israel’s ruthless response.

Nicosia was the only one at the table with a concrete proposal to pump high aid volumes directly to Gaza from Larnaca.

Using its connections with Egypt, Jordan and Israel, the plan has gained acceptance, although there are technical issues for Israel surrounding security.

President Niko Christodoulides saw an opportunity and stepped into the void to get his five minutes on the international stage rather than be the cloakroom attendant.

When he visits Rome, Paris and Berlin, he has something in his briefcase that can’t be ignored: a reliable partner in the Middle East when the roof caves in.

Moreover, it silences the rumours and innuendo about the island’s reputation as a laundromat for Russian tax evaders and sanction busters.

The national team might get smashed around in European football, but the government has woken up to avoid a battering in the political arena.

Politics being about the long game, the Gaza initiative and Cyprus becoming an evacuation hub will give the government free mileage to revive reunification talks.

There is also a hope that Turkey’s more radical behaviour and anti-Israel rhetoric could shift the sympathy scales towards Cyprus and give it more leverage in negotiations.

Nevertheless, the stain of the defunct passport sell-off, the murky dealings of a past president, and the Cyprus Confidential leaks will not quickly evaporate.

At least Christodoulides has understood that he must take the accusations seriously and be determined to clean the stable even if the stench lingers.

Critics will argue that Cyprus loves an investigation because they eventually enter a legal maze where the guilty can’t be traced.

This week, it also came as no surprise that the authorities sheepishly revealed they had been alerted to sanction-busting behaviour but thought it best to keep quiet until someone noticed.

Which is why the president made public he personally asked an unnamed “third country” to send an experienced team of financial crime experts to delve into old and new allegations that Cypriot fixers enabled Russian oligarchs to skirt international sanctions.

Whether this will go the same way as all the other myriad probes to clean house is something for another embarrassing investigation.

And if they ever write the book on how it happened, it would sell like discounts on a Black Friday afternoon.