The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passed a bill earlier this week to block Russian Navy ships from docking and refuelling in Cyprus’ ports.

Cyprus’ Defence Minister Savvas Angelides said that Nicosia will continue to provide Russian and other ships access to ports and infrastructure, despite US amendments to the draft law on cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Two US senators, Democrat Bob Menendez and Republican Marco Rubio, introduced a bill that changes the US strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean to reflect the shift in the region. The bill, in particular, lifts a decades-long arms embargo against Cyprus, with the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approving the draft law with amendments calling on the countries in the region to deny entry to Russian vessels.

No country can force Cyprus to stop providing port facilities to Russian or other ships, Angelides said in an interview with Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CYBC).

The minister emphasised that Nicosia will continue its efforts to further deepen relations with the United States, but the role of the Republic of Cyprus as a pillar of stability in the region should be respected.

Meanwhile, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades earlier expressed regret at the adoption of these amendments, telling reporters that he, in principle, welcomed the initiative by Menendez and Rubio, and the bill, which was originally submitted to Congress, according to the Press and Information Office.

“To date, facilities to any country were always granted for humanitarian reasons and I don’t think such conditions can be set, especially with a country, and I’m talking about America, with which we seek further strengthening of our relations. I am under the impression that the amendment was unfortunate”, he said.

The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act “seeks to update U.S. strategy in recognition of consequential changes in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the recent discovery of large natural gas fields, and a deterioration of Turkey’s relationship with the United States and our regional partners”.

The bill provides for the lifting of an arms embargo on Cyprus, prohibits the transfer of F-35 aircraft to Ankara, if Turkey goes ahead with the purchase of Russia-made S-400 air defence systems, and, in case it does, introduces sanctions against Ankara.

A number of the bill’s provisions are directed against Russia with the aim of “reducing its malign influence in the Eastern Mediterranean”. In particular, the senators propose to support efforts by regional countries to demobilise military equipment supplied by Moscow and replace it with weapons manufactured by NATO and NATO-allied countries; fully implement relevant CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) provisions to prevent interference by the Russian government in the region, and urge countries in the region to deny port services to Russian vessels deployed to support the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Cyprus has been partitioned since 1974, when Turkey occupied the island’s northern part, later proclaiming the region the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). While the Republic of Cyprus is internationally recognised as the sole legitimate state, Turkey maintains a military presence in TRNC, which is only recognised by Ankara as an independent state.

An arms embargo was imposed in 1987 with the eye to preventing a weapons build-up that would hamper diplomatic efforts to reunify divided Cyprus. The UN-brokered talks on the reunification of long-divided Cyprus have been going on for years and were resumed in May 2015.

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