Cyprus dismisses Russia claim of US military build-up
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Cyprus on Friday dismissed as baseless Russian claims that the US is seeking to establish a military foothold on the eastern Mediterranean island.
Moscow warned earlier this week that a US military presence in Cyprus would trigger a Russian response and result in "dangerous and destabilising consequences" for the island, an EU member state.
But Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said he had spoken to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to challenge him over the comments made by a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson.
"I expressed our deep concern over the comments made as they are not based on real facts and went beyond the diplomatic code," Christodoulides told Sigma TV.
He said Nicosia and Moscow had "excellent relationship" but that Cyprus "behaved like any other independent state and we make decisions in our own interest".
Christodoulides said he will visit Moscow in January for talks with Lavrov.
Maria Zakharova of Russia's foreign ministry said Wednesday that Moscow had become aware of plans involving Cyprus and the US military, which she said was seeking to set up forward operating bases.
"We're getting information from various sources that the United States is actively studying options to build up its military presence on Cyprus," Zakharova told a news briefing in Moscow.
"The aim is not being hidden -- to counter growing Russian influence in the region in the light of the successful operation by the Russian military in Syria."
Russia intervened in Syria's civil war in 2015, turning the tide in favour of Damascus.
On Thursday, a US State Department spokesperson said that "in November the United States and Cyprus signed a non-binding statement of intent expressing both countries' desire to explore opportunities to deepen bilateral security cooperation on a wide range of issues."
"The Russian portrayal of this signing as plans for a military build-up is characteristically absurd."
Zakharova said a US delegation had inspected potential sites for the bases and that Washington was engaged in intensive talks with Nicosia on expanding military cooperation.
Cyprus-US ties have grown of late -- Nicosia last month decided to appoint a military attache to Washington. The country also has strong relations with Russia.
A former UK colony, Cyprus hosts two sovereign British military bases.
The island has been divided since a 1974 Turkish invasion which occupied the northern third of the island in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup.
Turkey has since maintained some 35,000 troops in the breakaway north.
© 2018 AFP