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Cyprus Vacillating on Russia Flight Ban

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Konnos Beach, Cyprus. Credit: Kallerna/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The many financial ties Cyprus has with Russia appear to be causing Nicosia to vacillate on the terms for its own airspace ban on Russian flights that was called for in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Just the day after Russia sent its troops into Ukraine, the Cypriot parliament unanimously passed a resolution condemning the brazen move; at that time, President Nicos Anastasiades declared that his nation stood “together with all Europeans.”

Cyprus also agreed with a host of other countries around the globe when it imposed the severe sanctions that barred major Russian banks from participating in the SWIFT financial system.

Cyprus having reservations on Russia flight ban

But its dependence on Russia in the form of tourism and what many around the world consider money laundering may have made Cypriots think again about angering the source of much of the island’s income.

It’s not just the sheer number of Russian tourists — 782,000 out of 3.9 million, according to a report in Al Monitor — who flock to the sunny island that may make some on Cyprus blanch at the prospect of not seeing them this summer.

Related: Russia besieges historic Greek city of Mariupol

Fully 18,000 Russians are officially residents of the island, comprising one of the largest nationalities from anywhere outside the EU.

The tourism sector in Cyprus, as it is in Greece, is one of the main drivers of the economy,  contributing 2.68 billion euros ($2.97 billion) in 2019, representing 15 percent of its GDP, in the last year before Covid hit.

Incredibly, the share of Russian tourist on Cyprus even increased last year by leaps and bounds, with 600,000 arrivals from both Russia and Ukraine out of a total of 1.93 million.

Cyprus now looking toward rest of Europe, Israel for tourists

Cypriot Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios acknowledged that there will be “considerable loss” in the sector this year while he added the government would engage in a campaign to attract other tourists, including those from Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy and Poland.

In an interview with the Cypriot News Agency, Perdios stated “This season will be hard, but it will not be grim,” noting that travelers from above-mentioned nations will make up some of the slack.

“These markets will conduct between 20 and 40 flights per week, compared to 100-120 from Russia and Ukraine.”

But the Russian flight ban, supposed to have been good for an entire month, may be on shaky ground as the all-important tourism sector comes to grasp its import.

Now, Cyprus government officials state that the nation nevertheless has the right to reopen its skies to Russia although they have not indicated if they mean a reversal to take effect immediately or if they simply will not renew the ban after one month.

“Where will they go – to Turkey, is that what you want?”

Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos told Cypriot media on Wednesday that the flight ban will remain in effect for now; as it stands, Cyprus is the only country in the world to have noted any disagreement with the ban. The reservations expressed by Cyprus were recorded, Karousos noted, saying that the EU can give it a legal standing if Nicosia withdraws the flight ban.

On Sunday, Cyprus’ Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said that while his country joined the EU’s universal flight ban, it reserved the right to review the policy if Turkey opted not to enact the ban as well over concerns that Turkey would “instrumentalize” the ban, in effect siphoning off Russian tourists to its own shores this year.

The Russian ambassador declared that Cyprus had “shot itself in the foot” in enacting the ban earlier this week, intimating there would be grave financial consequences for the action.

Stanislav Osadchiy, the Russian ambassador to Cyprus, taunted the island nation, saying “Where will Cyprus get its Russian tourists from? They won’t come, where will they go – to Turkey, is that what you want?”.

“For them to go spend their money over there (Turkey)? Summer is coming up, you’ve closed your airspace – you shot yourselves in the foot,” he declared.

On Thursday night, Cyprus’ national council will debate the flight ban and there may be additional councils called for the coming days, while a major meeting of the EU foreign ministers will take place in Brussels on Friday.

Cyprus’ Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides will be there to hear an address by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

President Anastasiades will hold another meeting on the crisis with the government’s top ministers, including those in charge of finance, interior, defense, agriculture, health, transport, energy deputy tourism and deputy shipping, along with the central bank head, on Friday as well.


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