Report points to direct flights between Russia and Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus

Turkish media are reporting that Turkish Cypriots may be closer to a direct flight between Russia and North Nicosia, an otherwise politically unfeasible task due to the island’s partitions, which have been questioned in recent years.

Milliyet reported on Tuesday that negotiations between a Russian tour operator and the Turkish Cypriot government could lead to an agreement on direct flights between Russia and Ercan, the airport in northern Nicosia, which is not officially recognized by the Republic of Cyprus.

The progressive Istanbul daily quoted diplomatic sources as saying Russian commercial flights “will soon be operated directly between Russia and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” adding that this could possibly be achieved through a tour operator but also in the interests of the Kremlin.

While the north is not recognized by any country except Turkey, Ercan has operated with inbound and outbound international flights through Turkey. Repeated efforts to legitimize the airport internationally have been blocked by the Greek Cypriot south in the Republic of Cyprus, a UN and EU member that has not designated the runway as a port of entry.

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But according to Milliyet, the first flight from Russia to the north was now in the works and Turkish Cypriots were scrambling to get things ready in time for the opening of the new Ercan terminal later this year.

Milliyet says efforts continued in the north, but things became less difficult after Greek Cypriots lost their Russian tourist flow due to the south’s stance on the war in Ukraine and support for sanctions against Moscow.

Earlier this year, a week after Russian troops invaded eastern Ukraine, Nicosia followed Washington’s longstanding request to deny access to Russian ships, angering Moscow, which accused the Greek Cypriots of violating an explicit 2015 deal.

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As relations between the Kremlin and Nicosia continued to deteriorate, it was announced last week that the new ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus will be Murat Zyazikov, a Russian diplomat who is also Muslim, in sharp contrast to his predecessor Stanislav Osadchiy, who from the East comes Orthodox Christian.

Milliyet says Turkish Cypriots hope the new developments will pave the way for recognition, citing Hasan Unal, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Maltepe University.

“I see this as a first step in Russia’s recognition of the TRNC and I attach great importance to it,” Unal said.

But the academic also told Milliyet that the establishment of direct flights, along with what he called “the process of recognizing the TRNC,” was not based on the Kremlin’s anger at the Greeks, but was “a strategic” decision on infrastructure.

Noting that the north had challenged the south’s claims to the Republic of Cyprus’ internally recognized airspace, Unal said Turkey was also responding to Greek and Greek-Cypriot attempts to “militarize the crisis”.

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Greek Cypriot politicians have debated whether Nicosia should strive to maintain a more neutral position between East and West, following recent news that Washington was lifting an arms embargo on Cyprus in response to Nicosia’s blocking of Russian ships, a measure launched by The White House is checked at least once a year.

The ruling conservative Dysi party has supported President Nicos Anastasiades and his ministers in siding with the European Union against Russia, while the left-wing opposition has argued that the divided island should not be forced to make an election.

Dysi’s former finance minister, Harris Georgiades, said on state radio on Tuesday morning that Cyprus had a “clear choice” in the west. [Kathimerini Cyprus Edition]

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