This embargo had hit the Mediterranean island for decades. Washington has decided to end it on the condition that Cyprus continues to prevent Russian warships from accessing its ports.
A decision “historical” of the United States according to the Cypriot president. On Saturday, Nicosia welcomed Washington’s full lifting of the decades-long arms embargo on the Mediterranean island, on the condition that Cyprus continue to block Russian warships from accessing its ports. Washington had imposed an arms embargo on the whole of Cyprus in 1987, hoping to encourage the reunification of the island divided since the invasion of the north by the Turkish army in 1974, in reaction to a coup of state of Greek Cypriot nationalists who wanted to attach the island to Greece.
The United States thus hoped to prevent an arms race and to encourage a peaceful settlement between the Greek majority and the Turkish minority. On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken lifted defense trade restrictions on European Union member Cyprus, State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “This is a decision that reflects the growing strategic relationship between the two countries, including in the area of security,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades reacted on his Twitter account on Saturday.
Some critics say the US embargo has been counterproductive as it has forced Cyprus to seek other partners, while NATO member Turkey maintains troops in the island’s controlled north by the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC, recognized only by Ankara). Turkey has “strongly condemned” Washington’s decision on Saturday. “This decision will negatively affect the efforts for the resolution of the Cyprus issue and will provoke an arms race on the island”, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“With the lifting of the embargo, the Greek Cypriots will obtain attack weapons. It goes beyond defense. […] and will escalate tensions,” for his part reacted the president of the RTCN, Ersin Tatar, on Saturday on the Turkish channel TRT Haber.
US officials had worried that the embargo would bring Cyprus closer to Russia, as Nicosia signed an agreement with Moscow in 2015 allowing the Russian navy to access its ports. In December 2019, the US Congress voted to lift the arms embargo to allow the export of military equipment “non-lethal”. With the complete lifting of this embargo, Cyprus must “continue cooperation” with Washington, particularly in “continuing to take the necessary measures to deny Russian military vessels access to ports for refueling and maintenance”, added Ned Price. The EU has closed European ports to Russian ships as part of sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.