According to mass media reports confirmed by the Russian Embassy in Cyprus, Moscow has declared plans to open a consulate in North Nicosia, the capital of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), to defend Russian Federation residents’ civil rights and freedoms. Other than Turkey, no one recognizes Northern Cyprus.
According to the Russian Ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus Murat Zyazikov, the decision is justified by the TRNC’s growing Russian community, whose civil interests must be preserved and ensured, for example, in order to satisfy their election rights, as Russia’s presidential elections are set for 2024. At the same time, it is noted that the number of Russians in the area of Cyprus invaded by Turkey in 1974 is rapidly expanding and now exceeds 50 thousand individuals, according to the Russian embassy. Furthermore, consulates of significant Western countries—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy—have been operating on the territory of the unrecognized TRNC for some time now.
In other words, the Russian side’s desire to open a consulate in North Nicosia does not yet violate UN Security Council resolutions and does not recognize the TRNC’s sovereignty. However, in conjunction with the Russian Consulate in North Nicosia, Moscow intends to launch direct flights to the TRNC capital to facilitate passenger flow from Russia to the TRNC and back.
It should be emphasized that for some, particularly for Greeks and Greek Cypriots, this information was disturbing, if not shocking. There is nothing particular sensational, as the Greek side is well aware of the personal friendship between Russia’s and Turkey’s leaders, Turkey’s growing role in Russian economic and political interests, and President Erdoğan’s ability to push through his ambitions on its Russian track. Finally, in the context of the Russian Special Military Operation in Ukraine and anti-Russian sanctions, Greece and Cyprus have acted differently, to put it mildly, from Erdoğan and Turkey. Unfortunately, the Greek side supported the sanctions imposed by the entire West, which the Russian side cannot ignore. That is why the former Russian ambassador in Nicosia Stanislav Osadchiy, concluding his diplomatic mission in Cyprus in September 2022, characterized the Cypriot authorities’ stance towards the Russian Federation as unfriendly. Here is where one should look for potential justifications for such a Russian diplomatic action.
The issue of the Russian consulate in North Nicosia has, however, been the subject of discussions among some Russian experts for more than a year. They have left open the possibility that Moscow will reciprocally recognize the TRNC’s independence in response to Ankara’s similar recognition of Crimea as a part of the Russian Federation. However, a year has passed and there has been no change in Erdoğan’s “friendship” over Crimean ownership because Turkey still considers Crimea to be part of Ukraine. Let us not be deluded about Turkish consent to Russian Crimea, because those specialists and experts, such as Igor Girkin (also known as Strelkov), who allow political “barter,” such as recognizing Galicia and Lviv to be Polish, Transcarpathia Hungarian, and Bendery Romanian (for all of which, incidentally, the Red Army and Russian soldiers shed a lot of blood), should be aware of Turkey’s long-standing plans to recognize the strategically significant Crimean peninsula as an autonomous Crimean Tatarstan with vassal dependence on Turkey. In other words, the Turks did not forget Fatih Sultan Mehmed and Gedik Ahmed Pasha’s army’s military victories in 1475 in that particular Crimea—the siege of Caffa and the agreement with Khan Mengli I Giray on Istanbul’s sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula. So friendship is fine, but Crimea remains Russian territory.
Turkey, as protector of the occupied TRNC, is already conducting active diplomacy before the eyes of the West and Russia to recognize the independence of TRNC, which it occupied largely due to US political sanction as a result of the coup d’état of a group of “black colonels” in Greece and the position of the then President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, on neutrality and rejection of NATO in favor of partnership with the USSR (i.e., Big Russia, according to the fair definition of President Vladimir Putin). In particular, Ankara, contrary to popular belief, recognized the TRNC’s independence, or rather its reliance on Turkey, in 1983 and granted the TRNC, along with Hungary and Turkmenistan, observer status in the international Organization of Turkic States (OTS), which was established in November 2021 following the military success of the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem in Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same time, President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, who refuses the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh any kind of self-determination, behaves diametrically oppositely in the situation with the TRNC and resorts to force in violation of the law. The world, including the major players, forgave Erdoğan this vagary.
Generally, following the start of the Special Military Operation in Ukraine, the Russian side openly stated its intention to open a consulate in North Nicosia in April 2022, with the same reasoning of guaranteeing Russian civil rights in the TRNC. However, Russian Ambassador to Cyprus, Stanislav Osadchiy, stated a year ago that 10-15 thousand Russians had settled in Cyprus. If we believe official figures and the mass media, the number of Russians in the TRNC has increased nearly fivefold in the last year. Why is that?
Of course, the TRNC has not acquired international recognition, has not joined the EU or NATO, and has not progressed economically any farther than Turkey, which is currently experiencing a major collapse of its lira and enormous inflation. Therefore, internal factors within Russia itself influenced the increase in Russian migration. The emigrants undoubtedly include: first, a sizable percentage of business leaders who have relocated to “save” their capital from Western sanctions; and second, a sizable portion of draft-age individuals from wealthy families who are avoiding the same military operation in search of a “safety cushion.” It is unclear whether our future consulate will send “fugitives” home, where military tribunals may choose to call them to the front. However, this does not change the fact that they are Russian citizens, and no country other than Turkey recognizes the TRNC. Therefore, it is unlikely that “TRNC citizenship” will benefit them.
Inter-ethnic hostilities are still ongoing in the post-Soviet region, as well as in so-called unrecognized republics like the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and the Transnistrian Republic. Despite the presence of Russians in these quasi-entities, Russia does not yet have consulates there, as the astute reader would wonder. Russia has, in fact, a separate military presence in the mentioned territories. As a result, Russian peacekeepers are capable of carrying out these and other activities in order to support their citizens. When it comes to the TRNC, everything is in motion and is constantly changing. Russia has not yet announced recognition of the independence of the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus, but is ready to work with their leader Ersin Tatar to simplify civil and economic affairs.
Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”