Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Estrakosha fiasco resolved.

During the late 1990-s Cyprus bought an S-300 missile defense system from Russia. At that time Cyprus was seeking support from Russia for the Turkish problem (the invasion and secession of the Northern half of the country by Turkey in 1974). The tourism industry was also in a slump and the Russians were seen as a great opportunity to remedy it. But in order to achieve that, they had to grease the Russian palms. The Russian defense industry was in a deep crisis at the time so they reached a win-win agreement to buy the S-300 surface-to-air missiles.

Well, as usual, not everything went as planned. Turkey raised a major stink and threatened to bomb Cyprus, and any vessels it suspected of carrying any S-300 missiles. Cyprus had already paid for the missiles and the return policies were not very generous. So they figured that the S-300 would be deployed on the Greek island of Crete and manned by a joint Greek-Cypriot force since Turkey cannot make threats to Greece like it could do with Cyprus.

This was a great fodder for everyone - the politicians who were on TV every day talking about the 'ESTRAGOSHA' (this is how S-300 is pronounced in Cypriot Greek), the journalists had plenty of material for the news, the TV stations who kept the public updated on the issue for nearly three years, and the people who were proud that they were about to kick some Turkish ass.

Well, after a decade, the fiasco is over. Cyprus Mail reports that the S-300 have been given to Greece in exchange for less powerful systems.

Cyprus hands S300s to Greece in arms swap
By Jean Christou
THE CONTROVERSIAL Russian S300 missiles, which caused a crisis for the government of Glafcos Clerides nearly a decade ago, have been given to Greece permanently under an agreement signed yesterday.

The missiles, stored in Crete for safekeeping in the wake of the December 1998 crisis, were swapped yesterday for two other systems, the TOR M1 and SUZANA.

Greece will now keep the surface-to-air defensive S300s under the deal signed by the Defence Minister Christodoulos Pashiardes, and his Greek counterpart Evangelos Meimarakis in Nicosia.

Pashiardes told reporters after signing the agreement that Cyprus was transferring ownership of the S300s to Greece in return for ownership of the two other missile systems.

“The agreement settles permanently an issue which has been pending for many years,” Pashiardes said.

Meimarakis said it was an important agreement in that it resolves a long standing issue which had troubled Athens and Nicosia for many years.

“The agreement reached today, with all interested parties, settles a pending issue and integrates the weaponry systems into our defences,” he said, adding that the systems were used to safeguard stability and peace in the broader region.

Asked if the S300 missiles would remain in Crete and if they were compatible Greece other weapons systems, the Greek Minister said they would be absorbed into the current structure, upgraded and used to help keep peace and stability in the region.

The missiles were moved to Crete after huge international pressure on Clerides that resulted in then coalition partner EDEK withdrawing from the government. Current EDEK leader Yiannkis Omirou was then Defence Minister.

Greece joined in the pressure and finally persuaded Clerides not to bring the S300s to Cyprus. Clerides, in his latest book launched yesterday, devotes a chapter to the missiles issue.

He said during a meeting in Greece with then Prime Minster Costas Simitis and his cabinet, he was told of the reasons why Greece was opposed to the deployment. It included pressure on Athens by foreign diplomats. The wisest decision Athens told Clerides was to send the missiles to Crete.

However the former President said the S300s were part of the Joint Defence Dogma with Greece. He said it was decided in 1993 that missiles with a range larger than those already in Cyprus should be acquired to create airfields with refuelling depos similar to those used by NATO, the creation of an navy base and the reinforcement of the national guard with armoured battle tanks APCs and mobile surface-to-air missiles.

“When we decided to create the missile umbrella we asked Greece to send experts to Cyprus to assess the situation before taking any decision on the system to be acquired. Greece sent two missile expert officers who concludes the S300 should be acquired,” Clerides said in his book.

He also described the whole missile saga as a ‘fuss’ not a crisis.

“Some describe it as a mistake and argue that a crisis could have been triggered. They overlooked the fact that while the case was pending, during this time we built the Andreas Papandreou air base in Paphos.”

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