The Greek Cypriot government faced diplomatic isolation within the European Union last night, after being accused of trying to sabotage a United Nations plan to re-unite the divided Mediterranean island. A bitter international dispute was brewing as the Greek and Turkish communities prepared to cast their votes in referendums tomorrow on whether to end the 30-year-old division of Cyprus.
EU diplomats and officials blamed the Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos for inspiring Russia to use its first UN veto since 1993 to block a resolution on proposed security arrangements should the islanders vote for reunification. The Greek Cypriots, who will join the EU on 1 May, have close diplomatic and military ties with Moscow.
Mr Papadopoulos, who is campaigning for a "no" vote in the referendum, has provoked fury in Brussels where he has been accused of bad faith, media manipulation and suppressing freedom of speech. One official said the Greek Cypriots would join the EU in "diplomatic isolation, which is not a comfortable position for any EU state". The Turkish Cypriots will stay outside the EU unless both sides accept the UN plan.
The authorities in Brussels see the vote as a chance to solve the Cyprus division. In stark contrast to last year, when the Turkish Cypriots were viewed as the obstacle to a resolution, this time they are expected to back the UN deal. Tired of international isolation and economic stagnation, a majority of people are expected to vote for the plan. Opinion polls on the Greek side of the island suggest that about 65 per cent oppose the solution brokered by the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan.
Diplomats warned that Mr Papadopoulos's actions would have serious consequences once he takes up his seat at the EU's table. "There is a lot of anger at the way Papadopoulos has misrepresented this deal", said one diplomat.
Another added: "Trying to suppress freedom of the press, censorship - that sounds like something from a dark past not the behaviour of a country days before it joins the EU."
If the Turkish Cypriots vote "yes" but the Greek Cypriots oppose the UN plan, there will be strong pressure to a end a ban on direct flights to the Turkish side of the island - which is not internationally recognised - and relax trading economic curbs.
Although there are legal barriers to normalising trade, officials are said to be working on several plans to ease the plight of the Turkish Cypriots.
The resolution vetoed at the UN was designed to clarify the security situation for voters ahead of the referendum. "The veto was clearly Greek-Cypriot inspired," said one EU diplomat yesterday. "Their relationship [with Moscow] is a long-standing one."
The European Commissioner for enlargement, Günter Verheugen, said the Greek Cypriot government had "cheated" the EU by pretending to support the unification plan while campaigning against it.
The commissioner said the government "had taken him for a ride", and he criticised Mr Papadopoulos, whose government has prevented foreigners such as Mr Verheughen from appearing on television to argue for the UN plan.
"I have done everything I can to make it possible for the Greek Cypriot side to accept this plan on the understanding that this is what they intended to do. Now things look very different," Mr Verheughen said.