Foreign policy and defense
According to abbreviationfinder, Cyprus is a nation in Western Asia. Its capital city is Nicosia. Cyprus’s foreign policy is mainly shaped by the relationship between Greece and Turkey, which is complicated by the question of Turkey’s possible EU membership. The world’s interest in the oil and gas deposits that are believed to be in the sea around Cyprus has led to closer cooperation with countries in the Middle East. In Greek Cypriot southern Cyprus, Russia’s influence is growing.
On the Greek side, there is now hardly any talk of enosis (Cyprus’s association with Greece), but the ties between Greece and the Greek Cypriots are strong.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Cyprus for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Even stronger is the Turkish Cypriots’ ties to Turkey, the only country to recognize the self-proclaimed Turkish Cypriot state. After Cyprus became an EU member in 2004, cautious attempts by the Turkish Cypriot side to make a little greater independence towards Turkey were made. In the autumn of 2005, for example, the first military maneuver was held in northern Cyprus where no troops from Turkey participated.
The EU issue complicates the relationship between Turkey and Cyprus. Turkey does not recognize the Greek Cypriot government, although Turkey must do so if it wants to join the EU. The Greek Cypriots are trying to exploit Cyprus’ membership of the EU to force Turkey to recognize their government. The tendency seems to be that every round of negotiations between Turkey and the EU includes compromises with the Greek Cypriot government in order not to veto Turkey.
NATO and the United States
The NATO and US nations have their own military interests in Cyprus. The United States has a radar station in the Troodos massif in the south, and Britain has since the colonial period two military bases on the island. Many Greek Cypriots suspected that the US intelligence service CIA was involved in the 1974 coup d’état (see Modern History) and the subsequent Turkish invasion.
In order to encourage the Cypriots to reach a negotiated settlement, the United Kingdom has promised to return half of the land it owns in the event of a conflict resolution. The land shall be distributed among the parties. However, the bases should remain.
Agreement on sea borders
To enable sample drilling for oil under the seabed in the eastern Mediterranean, the Greek Cypriot government in 2006 signed an agreement with Egypt, and later with Lebanon, on how to delimit the Cyprus economic zone. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots protested against being consulted, claiming that exploration is illegal as long as the island is divided.
In March 2018, tensions increased as Turkey for several weeks tried to stop an Italian company from searching for oil and natural gas in disputed waters outside Cyprus. The EU condemned Turkey’s actions, which led to Turkey-EU irritation. Cyprus paid tribute to the EU’s condemnation.
In the fall of 2019, the situation worsened again after Turkey sent a ship to drill for gas off the southern coast of Cyprus in areas of the economic sea zone where the Cypriot government has already granted rights to drill to French and Italian companies. Turkey has claimed that some of the areas in which Cyprus drills are either in the Turkish continental shelf or in areas where Turkish Cypriots have equal rights to deposits. In early 2020, the EU sanctioned Turkey for test drilling already done.
Cooperation with Israel
The Greek Cypriot government’s relations with Israel during the 21st century have gone from strained to good – in almost exactly the opposite of Turkish-Israeli relations. Not least, the cooperation is about Israeli interest in joint exploitation of gas and oil deposits under the sea between the countries. In 2010, protests came from Turkey against an agreement between Cyprus and Israel on economic zones at sea. The Turks did not claim to have their own claims in the sea area, their demands were that the Turkish Cypriots should be included in the negotiations. In 2012, Cyprus and Israel also signed an agreement on defense and intelligence work. In early 2020, Cyprus, Israel and Greece signed an agreement to build a 190-mile gas pipeline to transport natural gas from Israeli and Cypriot gas fields to Europe.
Loans from Russia
Russia’s influence over the Greek part of Cyprus grew in the early 2010s. In 2011, Russia came to the rescue with a crisis loan of EUR 2.5 billion as the island’s economy began to decline. Russia has made major investments in Cyprus, but there have been suspicions in the EU that a significant portion of this money came from organized crime and that they were “washed” through the Cypriot banking system and then reinvested in Russia. In the context of the 2012 economic crisis, the Cypriot banking sector was regulated and the country’s days in which tax havens seemed to be over.
The EU and the US also suspect Russia of using Cyprus as an intermediary for arms deliveries to the Middle East, mainly Syria and Iran. The Russian intelligence service is also believed to use Cyprus as a base for its operations in the Middle East.
Cyprus and the EU
In 1990, the Greek Cypriot government applied for EC membership (EU from November 1993). In 1995, Greece was promised by other EU countries that membership negotiations would begin with Cyprus. In exchange, Greece refrained from vetoing a customs union between the EU and Turkey. When in 1997 the EU invited Cyprus to negotiate, only the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government was intended. However, the negotiations formally involved membership for the entire island.
Since the issue of reunification was unresolved when Cyprus joined the EU in May 2004, EU laws only applied to the southern Greek Cypriot part of the island.
At the same time, the European Commission proposed a package of measures to break the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, without recognizing the Turkish Cypriot Republic. The package included assistance and proposals to allow direct trade between the EU and the Turkish Cypriots. However, the Greek Cypriot government raised objections with the argument that trade with Turkish Cypriots would mean acknowledging their state. By blocking the entire package of measures, the Greek Cypriots were able to freeze half of the proposed aid until 2006.
In July 2005, a few months before Turkey was given the go-ahead to start its own EU membership negotiations, Turkey pledged to open its ports and airports for Cypriot vessels and aircraft. However, the Turks have not yet fulfilled the promise, but they argue that the isolation of Northern Cyprus must first be broken.
Cyprus is one of the world’s most militarized areas. More than 30,000 soldiers from Turkey are estimated to be in northern Cyprus. The Turkish military on the island has also had a significant political influence. It does not obey the Turkish Cypriot authorities but is under the command of its own general staff. A formal defense pact exists between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot “state”.
The Greek Cypriot government has a defense pact with Greece. At Paphos in the southwest, a military air base was inaugurated in 1998, which the Greek Air Force may also use. The previous recurring military exercises between Greeks and Greeks on the one hand (southern Cyprus) and Turks and Turkish Cypriots (on the north) on the other were down in 2001–2005, as they sought to facilitate UN reunification negotiations.
The Greek Cypriot Defense Force (National Guard) is a combination of ground, air and naval forces as well as special forces and consists of around 12,000 men. For men between the ages of 18 and 50 there is general military duty, which for most people lasts for 24 months.
Since 1964, the UN has a peacekeeping force in Cyprus, UNFICYP (UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus). UN troops patrol an 18-mile buffer zone between northern and southern Cyprus. The width of the zone varies between seven kilometers and a few meters. Since the division of the island in 1974, the task of the UN troops has been to prevent open war. However, in practice, the peace force would not have been an effective obstacle if either side really wanted to attack. In March 2016, the UN had 995 military, 68 police and 33 civilian foreign workers on the island. Until 1987, Sweden had a battalion in Unficyp.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 15,000 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.9 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 5.0 percent (2017)