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[ANALYSIS] Debunking myths and understanding Russia’s stance on the Cyprus problem

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Fatih Yurtsever*

Eurasianism in Turkey represents a political movement encompassing retired generals, admirals, politicians and scholars. Advocates of this movement believe Turkey should pivot away from NATO and the EU, emphasizing the need to forge political, military and economic alliances with nations like Russia, China and Iran. The ongoing “Cyprus problem” holds particular significance for Eurasianists due to its profound influence on nationalist sentiment in Turkey.

The “Cyprus problem” — also known as the Cyprus conflict, Cyprus issue, Cyprus dispute or Cyprus question — is a complex dispute involving the Greek Cypriot community in the southern part of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot community in the north. The island of Cyprus, located in the Mediterranean, is divided into two main sectors: the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, inhabited primarily by Greek Cypriots, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), recognized only by Turkey. The UK also retains sovereignty over two military bases on the island.

The Eurasianists emphasize the perception that the EU and the US are against an independent Turkish state on the island and claim that these entities overlook the rights of the Turkish people. In this way, they aim to increase anti-EU and anti-US sentiment among the Turkish population. Conversely, by suggesting that Russia and China might support the independence of the KKTC, they seek to foster a favorable view of these nations within Turkey. The Eurasianists claim that the further Turkey moves away from democratic principles and the rule of law, the greater their political influence will be. This belief underpins their staunch anti-EU and anti-US stance.

One of the leading Eurasianists, retired admiral Cem Gürdeniz, referenced a TASS news agency report suggesting Russia’s intent to open a consulate in the KKTC. Gürdeniz claimed that such a move would be immensely advantageous for the KKTC. He also urged China to establish a consulate in the KKTC and to integrate the KKTC into the Belt and Road Initiative, a project aimed at connecting Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks to improve regional integration, increase trade and stimulate economic growth.

However, the reality of the situation differs significantly from what Gürdeniz has stated. Russia is not opening a consulate in the KKTC. Instead, it is establishing an office to assist Russian citizens residing in the KKTC. This office will operate under the jurisdiction of the Russian Embassy in the Republic of Cyprus. Diplomats assigned from the embassy will travel to the island’s northern part on specific days to facilitate services for Russian citizens. Russia’s approach is not new. The UK, Germany, France and Italy have already implemented similar practices to provide consular assistance to citizens living in the island’s northern region.

The fact that Russia is opening an office to provide consular services does not mean it officially recognizes KKTC. A statement issued on Aug. 10 by the Russian Embassy in the Republic of Cyprus clarified that an office would be established in the northern part of the island to assist Russians with consular matters. The statement emphasized that this is purely a technical matter and does not alter Russia’s stance on the settlement of the Cyprus issue. Russia underscored the significance of its bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus. It reiterated its unwavering approach to the resolution of the Cyprus problem, grounded in the relevant UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, including Resolutions 541 and 550.

UNSC Resolution 541 states that the “declaration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as an independent state is incompatible with the 1960 Treaty concerning the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus and the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee. Therefore, the attempt to create a Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is invalid and will contribute to the worsening of the situation in Cyprus.”

The relevant portion of UNSC Resolution 550 reads as follows:

“The Security Council,

– “Gravely concerned about the further secessionist acts in the occupied part of the Republic of Cyprus which are in violation of resolution 541 (1983), namely, the purported exchange of ambassadors between Turkey and the legally invalid ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ and the contemplated holding of a ‘constitutional referendum’ and ‘elections’, as well as by other actions or threats of actions aimed at further consolidating the purported independent State and the division of Cyprus,

– “Condemns all secessionist actions, including the purported exchange of ambassadors between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership, declares them illegal and invalid, and calls for their immediate withdrawal;

– “Reiterates the call upon all States not to recognize the purported State of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ set up by secessionist acts and calls upon them not to facilitate or in any way assist the aforesaid secessionist entity;

– “Calls upon all States to respect the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, unity, and nonalignment of the Republic of Cyprus; …”

Under the UN Security Council resolutions, no country has recognized the KKTC to date.

In line with UNSC resolutions, Russia does not recognize the KKTC as an independent state. Regarding international law, consular activities are carried out under the “Vienna Convention on Consular Relations” which was signed on April 24, 1963 and entered into force on March 19, 1967. The Russian Federation is a party to the convention. The KKTC is not a party as it is not recognized as a sovereign state by the UN. According to the convention, in order for Russia to open a consulate in the KKTC, an inter-state relationship between Russia and the KKTC as two sovereign states must first be established. Establishing such a relationship between Russia and the KKTC is impossible without Russia officially recognizing the KKTC as an independent state. As clearly indicated in a statement by the Russian Embassy in Cyprus, Russia has reaffirmed its dependence on UNSC 541 and 550 and stated that it will not recognize the KKTC any time soon.

As a result, Russia will not open a consulate in the KKTC as the Eurasianists claim, and Russia does not support Turkey’s policy of recognizing the KKTC as an independent state. It will not do so in the near future. It is impossible to get Russia’s support on the Cyprus issue as the Eurasianists claim, and even if such support were to be obtained, it would make the Cyprus problem even more intractable.

* Fatih Yurtsever is a former naval officer in the Turkish Armed Forces. He is using a pseudonym out of security concerns.

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