Cyprus could send its Russian-made weapons to Ukraine in exchange for US weapons

Cyprus Cypriot flag tank national guard

Cypriot government spokesman Marios Pelekanos told the New York Times that Cyprus would be ready to consider transferring some of its weapons and ammunition to Ukraine if they were replaced with other military equipment of equal power and capabilities.

The spokesperson referred to several meetings with US officials in recent months, during which this possibility was also discussed.

Cyprus is seen by military analysts as a valuable source of Russian technology weapons that could strengthen Ukraine's defences.

The Cypriot National Guard has short and medium range TOR and BUK anti-aircraft systems as well as T-80U tanks. It also has BMP3 Armored Fighting Vehicles (AVM) as well as light armament compatible with that of the Ukrainian armed forces.

The recent lifting of the embargo on arms sales by the US allows Cyprus to equip itself with NATO weapons systems and in fact this could be done quickly so that the island is not exposed to a period of increased Turkish aggression.

The Biden administration announced in September a decision to lift the decades-old arms embargo on Cyprus for the coming fiscal year. This laudable step recognises Nicosia’s progress related to financial reforms and denying port calls of the Russian navy.

According to the Department of State announcement, “the Republic of Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation to allow the approval of exports, re-exports, and transfers of defence articles to the Republic of Cyprus for fiscal year 2023.”

Those conditions include continued cooperation related to strengthening anti-money laundering regulations and financial regulatory oversight and undertaking steps to “deny Russian military vessels access to ports for refueling and servicing.”

The arms embargo on Cyprus was originally enacted in 1987 in an effort to bring about a negotiated settlement to a conflict involving Cyprus, Turkey and Greece. The arms embargo was intended to prevent an arms buildup on the island and to push the countries to reach an agreement through diplomacy.

In reality, the embargo succeeded only in preventing Cyprus from buying US arms, while Ankara provided arms to the Turkish-occupied north of the island. With few options, Cyprus elected to procure weapons from other countries such as Russia, as governments tend to do when they cannot acquire American arms.

Specifically, Cyprus possesses 82 T-80U tanks, 43 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles, 11 Mi-35P helicopters, 6 Tor-M1 air defense systems, 4 Buk-M1-2 air defense systems, and 4 BM-21 multiple rocket launchers, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies Military Balance 2021.

All of these systems are either currently operated or have close variants operated by the Ukrainian military.

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