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Soviet duplicity in the Cyprus crisis

By Makarios Drousiotis

IN THE COLLECTIVE conscience of the Greek Cypriots the July 1974 coup and invasion, which commenced 40 years ago today, were part of a Western conspiracy against Hellenism.

According to this conspiracy theory, Cyprus was destined to become an unsinkable aircraft carrier used by NATO to keep a check on the Middle East.

Forty years on, this theory has not been validated by documentary evidence while it has been disproved by the facts.

Cyprus never became an unsinkable aircraft carrier, but instead became a thorn in the side of NATO. As a result of Turkey’s refusal to recognise the Republic, relations between the Alliance and the EU have been problematic.

When I was researching my recently published book – The Invasion and the Big Powers: the realpolitik of the US and duplicity of the USSR – I found that the theory of a Western plot could not be documented and was, to a large extent, the product of Soviet propaganda at the time.

In reality, the Soviet Union backed the Turkish invasion and consolidation of the status quo to cause divisions within NATO and enhance its relations with Turkey.

Turkey, meanwhile, had given assurances to the Soviet Union that it would not annex part of Cyprus, a development that could have led to double enosis, and said it would not offer facilities to NATO in the occupied part of the island.

Moscow’s main position was that the coup in Cyprus had been staged with the co-operation of the US which wanted enosis and the transformation of the island into a NATO satellite.

The Turkish invasion, the Soviets believed, would block these plans. This was reflected in the intensity of Moscow’s demarche on Athens immediately after the coup, “the Soviet Union cannot allow to pass the dangerous evolution of the situation in Cyprus and in that region, which is located close to the borders of the Soviet Union.”

On July 15, the USSR’s ambassador to Ankara, Vasily Grubyakov, had an hour-long meeting with Turkish President Fahri Korutürk. Grubyakov informed Korutürk that Moscow was ready to work with Ankara to defend the independence and integrity of Cyprus.

In statements to the press, Grubyakov said: “We are supporting those who are fighting against insurgents.”

The general secretary of the Central Committee of the USSR, Leonid Brezhnev sent a letter to President Richard Nixon and reminded him that there was an “understanding between the Soviet Union and the United States – and among many other countries, including Turkey – that the interests of Cypriot people and tranquility in this area as a whole is served by the independence and sovereignty of Cyprus.”

Moscow was demanding the return of Archbishop Makarios to power and the immediate withdrawal of Greek officers from Cyprus. This line was also adopted by Ankara, which was calling for constitutional order to be restored in order to justify its planned invasion of the island.

Makarios, who had fled abroad after the coup, applied to the UN Security Council to condemn Greece for its invasion of Cyprus. When he arrived in New York Makarios was in contact with the Soviet delegation at the UN.

The discussion of the Cyprus crisis commenced at the UN Security Council in New York, in the presence of Makarios, at 3.30pm on July 19, 1974 (in Greece it was 10.30pm).

While the discussion was taking place, the Turkish invasion force was on its way to Cyprus. The imminent Turkish invasion was not discussed by the Security Council, the debate focusing exclusively on the Greek coup.

Makarios, who was in consultation with Moscow, told the Security Council that the Greek ambassador to Cyprus had contacted him on instructions from his government to explain that reducing the National Guard or withdrawing Greek officers would weaken Cyprus’ defence against the potential menace of Turkey.

“I replied that as things developed, I consider the danger from Turkey of a lesser degree than the danger from them. And it was proved that my fears were justified.

“As I have already stated, the events in Cyprus do not constitute an internal matter of the Greeks of Cyprus. The Turks of Cyprus are also affected. The coup of the Greek junta is an invasion, and from its consequences the whole people of Cyprus suffers, both Greeks and Turks.”

It was decided that time would be given to the UN to complete its consultations for the approval of a resolution condemning Greece’s intervention in Cyprus. By next morning in New York, Turkey’s attack on Cyprus, by air and sea, was already underway and its troops were on the island.

On July 20, on instructions from his government, Turkey’s ambassador in Moscow Ilder Turkmen met the Soviet Union’s foreign minister Andrei Gromyko to inform him of Turkey’s intentions.

According to Turkmen, “Gromyko received the explanation of Turkish intervention [in Cyprus] with understanding,” although he expressed three concerns on which he requested clarification.

Gromyko was concerned about the danger of partition, but “the Turkish answer appeared to satisfy him.”

The second issue on which he sought clarification was over the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus. Turkmen referred to the Zurich agreements and answered affirmatively, noting however that “there was no specific timing for this action.”

Finally there was the matter of Makarios’ future. Turkmen said Turkey was not opposed to Makarios’ return, but it was not up to them to decide who would be the president of Cyprus. Gromyko was not fully satisfied with the statement about Makarios, but “appeared to accept the Turkish position”.

Gromyko told the ambassador that the Greek coup was tantamount to enosis, “Whether Sampson proclaimed union with Greece as his objective now or not, if he remained, this would be the aim of his government.”

Gromyko’s position indicated that the Soviets believed the Greek coup would mean the annexation of Cyprus, which, he believed, the Turkish intervention would impede.

Moscow positioned itself unequivocally in favour of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, which it characterised as a legitimate reaction to the “Greek military […] continuing their aggressive acts against the independence of the Cypriot people”. Moscow argued that “the Greek intervention” was supported “by certain circles of the NATO military bloc”.

The Soviet government’s announcement included a reference to the fact that “Turkey has landed troops in Cyprus” and that “armed clashes have begun between Turkish troops and detachments of the rebels.”

According to the Soviet government, Turkey was motivated by wanting to “defend the Turkish community on the island and has declared that it undertook this step after it was persuaded that all peaceful means of settling the conflict had been exhausted” and that its aim was “restoring the independence of Cyprus and the authority of its lawful Government”.

Immediately after the start of the invasion, the US submitted a draft resolution at the Security Council calling for a ceasefire and the start talks among the three guarantor powers – Greece, Turkey and Britain.

The American objective was to avert a Greco-Turkish war. But when the Americans arrived at the Security Council for consultations, they found the Turks lobbying against the ceasefire and the Soviets insisting on approving the draft Security Council resolution that had been circulated the previous evening and which referred only to the coup, as if the Turkish invasion had not taken place in the meantime.

In the end a compromise was reached and the draft resolution, prepared about the coup, had the call for a ceasefire and the start of talks added to it.

Thus resolution 353, which called for the withdrawal of Greek officers from Cyprus and made no reference to the Turkish invasion troops, was adopted unanimously on July 20, 1974.

During consultations between the French Permanent Representative Louis de Guiringaud and the Soviets, the Cypriot Permanent Representative Zenon Rossides was also present.

The Soviets said they would “accept anything the Cypriots would accept”. According to the American permanent representative, the “Soviets worked in close harmony with Cypriots, throughout the day, even at the last minute checking with [the] Archbishop himself by phone to make sure he accepted [the] resolution.

Perm Rep Rossides showed himself [a] more-than-willing collaborator [of the] Soviets.”

“At no point was any delegation other than the US willing to abstain or vote ‘no’ on the July 19 draft with its withdrawal language aimed specifically at Greeks – notwithstanding fact July 19 draft out of date in light [of] Turkish intervention,” stated the US delegation’s telegram to the State Department.

The Soviet representative stated before the Security Council that the relevant reference in the resolution referred “to the Greeks officers whose flagrant interference in the domestic affairs of Cyprus, on orders from Athens, was the prime cause of the present crisis.”

After the approval of the resolution, the Soviet Union took the role of observer, despite the continuing violence in Cyprus. And on July 29, 1974, after Turkey had landed thousands of troops in Cyprus, Moscow made representations to Athens over the non-implementation of Resolution 353.

The Soviet ambassador in Athens called on the director of the Greek foreign ministry Angelos Vlachos and underlined the importance of the withdrawal of foreign troops, by which he meant Greek troops.

Vlachos responded that the resolution clearly also referred to all the Turkish troops, and that he would instruct Greece’s ambassador in Moscow to protest “continued Soviet anti-Greek posture on [the] Cyprus issue”.

The Soviet ambassador replied to Vlachos that he could issue whatever instructions he desired, but he disagreed that “Turkish forces should be included in the definition of foreign forces” under the SC resolution.

On August 10, a few days before the second Turkish offensive, Ankara sent ambassador Ismail Soysal to Moscow on a special mission to assure the Soviet government that Turkey had no intention of partitioning Cyprus.

According to a report by the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) on Soysal’s mission to Moscow, the Turks were probably seeking “Soviet understanding should [Ankara] feel compelled to resume military operations on Cyprus”.

Moscow showed total indifference to the second Turkish offensive which commenced on August 14 and resulted in the occupation of 36 per cent of Cyprus’ territory and the displacement of 160,000 Greek Cypriots.

The Soviets, who had made such a big fuss about the July 15 coup, did not utter a word about the Turkish invasion and its consequences.

Gromyko was on holiday and Moscow showed no interest in Turkey’s actions.

Ambassador Turkmen met with deputy foreign minister Semyon Kozyrev on August 14 and 15 and concluded there was “no change in the Soviet position”. The only difference was that the Soviets no longer referred to Makarios and “his return is clearly secondary to them now.”

Asked about the reaction of the USSR, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told a press conference called to explain the new offensive that “no untoward reaction of any kind” had been received from the Soviet Union immediately after the resumption of hostilities in Cyprus.

Ecevit sought publicly to reassure Moscow that Turkey was taking into account its concerns about the geopolitical balance in the region. “We will show special care to protect the atmosphere of detente in the world, and particularly in our region, during our Cyprus operation as well as in future attempts to find a solution to the Cyprus issue,” he said.

As a result of the invasion, Greece withdrew from NATO, while the US Congress imposed an embargo on the sale of arms to Turkey. Ankara responded by closing all US telecommunications facilities that were used to monitor the Soviet nuclear arsenal.

The Cyprus crisis had created a major rift in NATO at the height of the Cold War.

Moscow’s policy remained unchanged in the years after the invasion. Up until 1977, which was the period of my research, the Soviets were interfering in Cyprus’ domestic political system, with the sole aim of safeguarding the status quo.

They used the Cyprus crisis to undermine the coherence of NATO and to curry favour with Turkey which was considered of great strategic importance.

Shortly after the UN resolution was adopted, Makarios met by chance the Austrian diplomat Dr Ludwig Steiner, who had served as ambassador to Nicosia.

Steiner, relaying his conversation with Makarios to the Americans, described his anger over the General Assembly resolution on Cyprus and the lack of support from Non-Aligned Movement member states, with whom he had worked for years and on whose support he had counted.

Makarios said he realised he “could expect no help from the Soviets, and, in this connection, told Steiner that he now felt a certain pro-American tendency ‘deep in his heart’.”

The Invasion and the Big Powers: the realpolitik of the US and duplicity of the USSR by Makarios Drousiotis (Alphadi publications: Nicosia) In Greek

Εφημερίδα «CYPRUS MAIL» - 20/07/2014