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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 19, October 1997

Controversy over Cyprus Missiles

A planned sale of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Cyprus has caused consternation in the Turkish-controlled part of the island and Turkey itself. The Turkish government has expressed its determination to prevent the deployment of the missiles, reportedly scheduled for mid-1998, from taking place.

On 26 September, Turkey wrote to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, asking him to call for the termination of the deal. The letter, written by Turkey's Permanent Representative to the UN, Huseyin Celem, read:

"Technical specifications of this missile system are such that it constitutes a direct threat not only to the security of the Turkish Cypriots but also the security of Turkey itself. ... It is obvious that the developments pertaining to the acquisition of these missiles will exacerbate the existing tension in the island, and also create instability in the region... There should be no doubt that Turkey cannot remain indifferent to developments that will endanger the security of the Turkish Cypriot community and its own, and will take corresponding measures... Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side are also determined not to allow the installation of missiles in south Cyprus to be used as a bargaining element in the negotiating process."

The letter concluded: "In the light of the present tense situation in Cyprus and the gravity of the recent developments...my government wishes to request you, Mr. Secretary-General, urgently to take initiatives with the parties concerned with a view to preventing the deployment..."

On 9 October, Foreign Minister Isamial Cem told a press conference in Ankara: "We are not just waiting to see whether the missiles come or not and then forming a policy once they are deployed... On the contrary, we are now working on what measures to take... In foreign policy, you must always take the worst scenario into account."

On 29 September, the sale was defended by Yevgeny Moskalenko, a senior official in Russia's arms exports agency, Roosvooruzheniye, who insisted that the missiles could not hit targets in Turkey. Although the range of the missiles - 150 Kilometres (94 miles) - brought parts of Turkey within reach, the system was not designed to make such strikes:

"Striking ground sites on the territory of Turkey with the...S-300 systems is [as] possible...as driving nails with computers..."

Reports: Turkish government, military discuss missile, Xinhua, 19 September; Turkey slams Russia's missile deal with Cyprus, Xinhua, 24 September; Turkey asks UN to bar Cyprus missile deployment, Reuters, 26 September; S-300s make no threat to Turkey - Roosvooruzheniye, Itar-Tass, 29 September; Turkey says it's on alert on Cyprus missiles, Reuters, 9 October.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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