21:54 GMT +316 December 2017
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    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, right, and his Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides during a meeting at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Reception House

    Russian, Cyprus Foreign Ministers Discuss Syria, EU Sanctions, Cyprus Dispute

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    Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides paid a working visit to Moscow on Monday where he met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, with the ministers discussing a number of international issues including bilateral ties, Syria and Cyprus dispute settlement.

    MOSCOW (Sputnik) The visit comes ahead of forthcoming Cypriot chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers that will last from November 22, 2016 to May 19, 2017.

    "Minister Kasoulides arrived in Russia in the context of preparations for the Nicosia Presidency in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Therefore, it is logical that we focused on the priorities of Cyprus in this organization and our cooperation within its framework for the next six months," Lavrov said after talks.

    He stressed that while Russia saw the Council of Europe as an important humanitarian backbone of the European architecture, Moscow deemed it important to "keep the Council of Europe from sliding into double standards, artificial politicization of its agenda, to which some of our Western colleagues are pushing it."

    The Russian foreign minister also admitted that the current state of relations between Russia and the European Union negatively affected trade and economic cooperation between Moscow and Nicosia, in a clear reference to EU-wide anti-Russia sanctions in place since 2014.

    According to the Bank of Russia, as of January 1, 2016, Cypriot accumulated direct investment in the Russian economy was $94.5 billion, while Russian investment in the Cypriot economy was $92.2 billion. But as a result of sanctions trade and economic cooperation between Cyprus and Russia has declined and both countries are looking for ways of rectifying the situation.

    The Ukrainian issue was also raised during the bilateral meeting, with both sides stressing the need to fully implement the Minsk agreements.

    "We and Cyprus have a unified position. There is no alternative to the consistent and comprehensive implementation of the Minsk agreements in the form they were approved," Lavrov said.

    Syria was not mentioned as a topic on the official agenda, though ahead of the talks a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry told Sputnik that Lavrov always raised the Syrian issue at talks with his European counterparts and that Cyprus was expected to show friendly attitude toward Russia on this issue in contrast to the official EU line.

    Both ministers mentioned Syria as one of the most important issues they had addressed at bilateral talks.

    Asked by journalists about US promises to differentiate the moderate opposition from Jabhat Fath al Sham (previously known as the Nusra Front) terrorists, outlawed in Russia, Lavrov noted that an almost-two-week pause in the anti-terror airstrikes by Syrian and Russian air forces seemed enough for the United States to carry out such a differentiation.

    "If earlier we said that the US and its allies either can't or don't want to dissociate moderates from al-Nusra, now, apparently, we have to say that they don't really want to do this," Lavrov admitted.

    Both sides also rejected plans of setting up Russian military bases on Cyprus.

    "You say that the issue of Russian military bases is often discussed in the press, but I am afraid that it was discussed only in the press. I do not think it has ever been discussed among officials government circles," Kasoulides said, adding that "real life has demonstrated that Russia can arrive in Syria without any bases."

    "In fact, I don’t remember this topic was even raised at the talks between Russia and the Republic of Cyprus," Lavrov echoed this statement, adding that Russia’s military bases in Hmeymim and Tartus in Syria were enough to conduct counterterrorist operations in the Arab country.

    Much was also said about the Cyprus issue, which is ethnically and politically divided since 1974 into a breakaway Turkish-speaking north and an internationally recognized Greek-speaking south. Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but only the southern part enjoys full membership benefits.

    "Cyprus has its own existential problem with invasion and occupation – 37 percent of the island is occupied by Turkey and we have never ceased to express our gratitude to a consistent policy of principles played by Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council," the Cyprus foreign minister said.

    He added that Nicosia counted on Moscow's support not only in endorsing the decisions that could be reached by the two sides but also in the monitoring of their implementation.

    On November 7, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades is set to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci for negotiations in Switzerland on how much territory each side would administer under an envisioned federation.

    During the Monday talks, both Russia and Cyprus reiterated their common stance on the need to fully withdraw foreign troops from the Cyprus territory, with the Russian foreign minister emphasizing that "the problem of how to ensure security of the united Cypriot state is to be solved by the Cypriot sides".

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    anti-Russian sanctions, Sergei Lavrov, Syria, Russia, Cyprus
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