Russia said on Wednesday it was opposed to linking the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (Unficyp) mandate to the progress of the negotiations on the Cyprus issue.
In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency Russian ambassador Stanislav Osadchiy said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision, announced on Tuesday, to send up to five Russian military servicemen to Unficyp as liaison officers, military observers and staff officers, “reaffirms the importance that Russia attaches to the UN mission’s responsible and significant task on the island”.
Russia already has six people participating in the United Nations Police (Unpol) in Cyprus since March 2016. Unpol comprises 68 police officers from nine countries. This was the first time in Unficyp’s 55-year history that Russia sent personnel to join the force.
“We believe that the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus effectively carries out its activities. We oppose the artificial link between the UN assistance and the progress of the negotiations,” he added.
Osadchiy made a similar statement in January this year in an interview with Phileleftheros, when he said it was important that the UN Security Council and its members retained a central role in the Cyprus negotiations. Russia is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, giving it a say when Unficyp’s mandate comes up for renewal twice a year.
In December 2018, Russia warned it would retaliate against any moves to militarise Cyprus in cooperation with the US following the growing cooperation between Nicosia and Washington. Moscow said any such move would “inevitably lead to dangerous and destabilising consequences for Cyprus itself”. Following criticism of the comment, Osadchiy later said they were directed at the US, not Cyprus.
The latest comments come just after US Senator Robert Menendez, who was in Cyprus on Tuesday, tabled a bipartisan bill to lift the decades-old US arms embargo on Cyprus, and upgrade Nicosia’s relations with Washington.
The bill would also require the US administration to submit to Congress a strategy on enhanced security and energy cooperation with countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as reports on “malign activities by Russia and other countries in the region”.
The Unficyp comments from Osadchiy, and Moscow’s offer, are also the likely response to Washington’s recent policy change involving reviews of UN peacekeeping missions and the linking of their mandates to progress in political disputes.
The Cyprus government has been pulling out all the stops to ensure the continued presence of Unficyp on the island and its decoupling from the stalled Cyprus negotiations.
Osadchy said on Wednesday that “against the background of the unresolved Cyprus problem, we support the maintenance of the basic parameters of the peacekeepers’ mandate unchanged, including their staff potential. We are sure that the UN ‘blue helmets’ should play their important stabilising role further. We hope that the UN Secretariat will react positively to our proposal,” he added.