Turkish anger grows at Russia missile deal

Cyprus crisis: Fears of conflict counter American optimism
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The Independent Online
Russia should back out of its deal to sell advanced surface-to- air missiles to the Greek republic of Cyprus in order to avoid inflaming the eastern Mediterranean, and the United Nations should impose an immediate Bosnian-style embargo on all further weapon supplies to the island, Turkey's ambassador to Britain told The Independent yesterday.

He repeated earlier Turkish threats that if the missiles were installed the Turks would destroy them. Senior British government sources expressed grave concern about the situation which could lead to more than a war of words between Greece and Turkey - both members of the North Atlantic alliance.

The British sources said they wanted "confidence building measures" - shared channels of communication - between Greece and Turkey to reduce the risk of a shooting war. "It would not be responsible to allow these two allies to be drawn into conflict on the basis of a spur-of-the-moment decision by a Second Lieutenant" [the most junior officer], the government source said.

Speaking to The Independent, the Turkish ambassador, Ozdem Sanberk, agreed. He said improved links between Greece and Turkey would inevitably filter down to opposing forces on the island - the most heavily militarised place in Europe.

Turkey has been enraged by the signature on 4 January of a deal to buy the Russian missiles, in what Mr Sanberk said was a "flagrant breach" of UN Security Council Resolution 1092 of 23 December, which expressed "grave concern about the excessive levels of military forces and arms in the Republic of Cyprus" - fingering the Greeks, not the Turks. The Russian S-300 missiles, known to Nato as SA-10s, codenamed "Grumble", are similar to United States Patriots, and also have a limited ability to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles.

They can fire out to 90 miles and hit aircraft up to an altitude of 88,000ft, so they could easily bring down Turkish warplanes or even airliners carrying tourists to Turkey's southern coast. But what really worries the Turks is that the missiles can be converted to carry chemical or biological warheads, and be exploded high over a city.

"I don't know why they want them", said Mr Sanberk. "Russia has a responsibility as a member of the Security Council. The Russians shouldn't have sold them these things".

A Russian official visited Cyprus to sign the deal on 4 January. The Turks say the Greek Cypriots are spending $2m (pounds 1.2m) a day on arms and had recently bought 40 Russian T-80 tanks. They apparently want the Russian missiles to defend a new air and naval base being built at Paphos. Until now, Turkey has enjoyed virtually unchallenged air superiority over the island.

Mr Sanberk said he supported the establishment of new ties between Greece and Turkey, which at the moment can only communicate through Nato. Greece is a full member of the European Union and the Western European Union defence pact; Turkey is not.

Mr Sanberk told The Independent that Turkey needed to join the European Union to sort out the Cyprus problem. "Nato has only one dimension - security. The EU is multi-dimensional," he said. He said he favoured a Bosnian- style solution, with two distinct entities to preserve the distinct cultural identities and interests of Greeks and Turks, but some form of joint presidency over the whole island.

"There is only one way," he said, "to live side by side but separately in one island".

Greek grudges, page 13