Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Says Missile Sale To Cyprus On Track

Russian Defense Ministry officials said Wednesday that the controversial delivery of S-300 air defense systems to the divided island of Cyprus will go ahead this year, despite plans by the island's Greek Cypriot government to postpone the delivery.

In a sign that the Greek Cypriot government still intends to go ahead with the purchase, Cypriot Defense Minister Yiannakis Omerou is to travel to southern Russia later this week to view a test launch of the missile system.

The decision by the Cyprus government to purchase the Russian-made missiles has angered the Turkish government, which occupies part of the island, and has drawn criticism from the international community.

An officer with the Defense Ministry's international military cooperation department on Wednesday confirmed previous unofficial reports that the delivery of the S-300s will "probably" be rescheduled from August to November.

The reports of a planned postponement had prompted uncertainty that the deal would go ahead at all. But the officer, who did not want to be identified, said the delivery had not been canceled. This would only happen if the Greek Cypriots "achieve a breakthrough," in talks with their Turkish counterparts, he said.

The planned delivery of the Russian-made weapons system has heightened the tension surrounding the island, where the Greek Cypriot government, backed by Athens, is in an armed standoff with Turkey.

It is unknown how many missile systems are to be delivered to the island under the Jan. 4, 1997 contract, which is estimated to be worth $500 million. Each system comprises 8 to 12 missile launchers, power generators and self-propelled control and radar facilities. The system is capable of shooting down missiles or aircraft flying as low as 100 meters and can identify and intercept Turkish warplanes even before they enter Cypriot airspace. Omerou may officially announce the postponement during his visit to Russia, according to Sophoclis Sophocli, a spokesman for the Cypriot embassy in Moscow.

No official reason for the postponement of the delivery has been given.

Independent defense analysts said the Cypriot government opted to delay delivery until after the tourist season, because they feared the escalation of the tensions expected to accompany the arrival of the missiles, might scare away visitors. Tourism is one of the main sources of revenue for the Greek Cypriot state.

Putting off delivery until November solves this problem, according to Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy head of the Center for Analysis of Strategic and Technologies.

"Even if it does trigger off an armed conflict, it will definitely be over by the next tourist season," Makiyenko said.

The Defense Ministry official, however, suggested that the Greek Cypriot government could be stalling the delivery of the S-300s because it wants to try to negotiate peace one more time before the Russian-made systems arrive and deepen the rift between the two sides of the island.

Peace talks are currently stalled. The Turkish side says it will resume peace talks only if the Greek Cypriots recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus proclaimed in 1983. So far, the republic is recognized only by Ankara.

Although Greek Cypriot officials insist that the S-300s are purely defensive, Turkey and the Republic of Northern Cyprus are fiercely opposed to the missile deal, with Ankara even threatening to use force to prevent deployment of S-300s.

"We are taking all necessary measures ... nothing can be ruled out," Nabi Sensoi, Turkey's ambassador to Russia said Wednesday when asked whether Ankara would consider military action against Cyprus.The United States and NATO have also called on the Cypriot Greeks to abandon the deal, which they say may result in a major escalation of tensions, or even an armed conflict, on the divided island.

Cypriot Defense Minister Omerou , who arrived Tuesday for a five-day visit at the invitation of the Russian government's arms exporter, Rosvooruzheniye, is expected to personally attend the planned testing of the S-300 system later this week.

Cypriot Greek servicemen, trained at the Gatchinsky air-defense drill center near St. Petersburg, will fire S-300 missiles Thursday and Friday to intercept dummy rockets to be launched at the Emba firing range. The range is located some 1,200 kilometers south of Moscow, near the Volga port of Astrakhan.

The tests will also be attended by several other high-ranking Cypriot officials, including the commander of the National Guard, Demetris Dimos. Omerou is to meet his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeyev, on Friday.

Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides is also due to visit Russia this month. Clerides is to meet President Boris Yeltsin and several other high-ranking Russian officials from July 11 to July 14.

The Russky Telegraf newspaper said earlier this week that two sites are being prepared by the Cypriot Greek military for deployment of the Russian-made systems in the southern and central parts of the island.

There have been several reports, later refuted, that parts of the S-300 systems have already been delivered to the island. Turkish authorities last month impounded a cargo ship because they suspected it was secretly delivering missile parts to Cyprus.

Turkey has offered lucrative arms deals to Russia in exchange for cancellation of the S-300 deal, according to Russian news reports. Sources in Rosvooruzheniye have said that Ankara has even shown an interest in buying S-300s for its own military.

In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus, which at the time was an independent republic. The invasion was prompted by an attempted coup by Greek Cypriots, which Ankara feared would lead to Greece's annexing the entire island.Turkish troops occupied the northern part of the island.

There are now some 30,000 Turkish soldiers stationed on the island. Together with the Turkish Cypriot military, they heavily outnumber the Greek Cypriot armed forces. Turkey's chief of general staff, Hakki Karadayi, is to inspect the troops in the Republic of Northern Cyprus on Friday.