Cyprus has dominated European financial news for the past few weeks, with the protracted and antagonistic bailout of the country’s banks negotiated between its politicians, the EU and the IMF. An oft-neglected outpost on the Mediterranean, the recent events leading to Cypriot attention would no doubt have displeased its inhabitants.
One of the more unsavoury revelations to emerge from the Cypriot economic crisis is the publicisation of the heavy presence of Russian capital in the country and the suspicion that the sources of such capital are ordinarily tied to criminal enterprises using Cyprus as a money laundering front.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and Cyprus have developed increasingly close ties. Not only is Cyprus a destination to “hide” illicit Russian funds but the two countries have also tried to solidify military ties. The 1997 negotiation for Cyprus to buy 40 Russian Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) outraged the Turks, leading to a protracted dispute that ultimately led to the missiles being diverted to Greece. Unperturbed, Russo-Cypriot military ties in the form of training, technology transfer and logistical support persist. Furthermore, the two countries seem to share a close intelligence network, particularly when it comes to Russia’s national interests. In 2010, when the United States uncovered a network of Russian sleeper agents within American borders, one of the “Illegals”, Christopher Metsos, fled to Cyprus where he was detained. Before he could be handed over, however, Metsos was mysteriously released on bail and fled, presumably back to Russia.
These close relations testify to Russia’s attempts to counter continuous EU expansion in the Mediterranean. It is therefore ironic that, during an earlier period in Cypriot history, the Russians were not willing to offer the island similar support.
During the 1930s, when Cyprus was a British dominion (1878-1960), a perceived communist threat materialsed on the island that the British believed presented a challenge to their rule. Heavily influenced by the prominent communist movements in nearby Greece, a number of left-wing communist groups and labourers movements emerged in Cyprus.
The British felt sufficiently concerned about the “red upsurge” that they resorted to legalistic debate about how best to eliminate the budding communist threat. Foreign & Commonwealth Office papers dating from the 1930s highlight the amusing and rudimentary British tactics for justifying a crackdown on communism. Among their chief concerns were:
The difficulty of proving in a court of law that the accused is a member of the Communist Party unless he is found in possession of a card of membership.
The difficulty of satisfying the court that Communism, as such, necessarily implies violence and revolution, although everybody knows perfectly well that it does.
The difficulty of getting some of the subordinate judges to realise the seriousness of the offence of uttering words and writings of a revolutionary character.
The British administration was clearly pained by the fear that it could not lock up all the communists quickly enough and that, were this the case, Cyprus would fall victim to a violent socialist revolution. They should not have been so worried.
In a ‘Plan of Development and Application of the Communique to the Nicosia Branch of the Cyprus Communist Party’, the author laments that:
With the exception of 2-3 groups which are regularly paying their subscription the secretaries of the other groups as well as the groups themselves simply exist on paper. The monthly or weekly contributions are not regularly collected from all members on account of a lack of endeavour.
The Cyprus Communist Party (KKK) was effectively bankrupt. Like any popular, insurrectionary group, funding from wealthy patrons was required to boost negligible or non-existent member subscription fees. After all, the majority of members from left-wing movements were poor and unable to make a significant financial contribution. Given that the Cypriot elite was in cohorts with the British administration and saw no wish in upsetting its prestigious status, support would be needed from elsewhere. With the exception of minor Greek backing this was not forthcoming.
If only the Russians, then the global bastions and founders of the communist state, had taken note of Cyprus. The island’s history may have been so different. As it is Russo-Cypriot ties have developed at a historically intriguing stage when the former Soviet giants have seemingly turned their backs on communism to negotiate their way through the economic quagmire of the capitalist world.