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Set in the increasingly relevant and complex eastern Mediterranean, Costas Melakopides’s Russia-Cyprus Relations: A Pragmatic Idealist Perspective, deals with a subject that has been overlooked in contemporary geopolitical literature. Through a chronological examination of the relationship between Russia and Cyprus, Melakopides attempts to make a strong statement on two levels. First, he provides a distinct theoretical insight into the motivations driving Russian foreign policy in the region, and second, he juxtaposes the Russian approach to that of Britain and the United States.
Melakopides argues from what he describes as a “practical idealist” perspective. For him, this means that there are ideas and notions that tie states and peoples together, such as those between Russia (or the former Soviet Union) and Cyprus. He argues that the political realism coming from London and Washington since 1878 has consistently tilted policy outcomes toward Turkey, even though Turkey has been a gross violator of international normative and ethical behavior. Moreover, he argues that British and US influence in the region since the 1940s has consistently placed Cyprus on a course toward failure. This path, he writes, has included the unworkable constitutional arrangement that included three guarantor regimes; the acceptance of the illegal 1974 invasion; the unilateral declaration of independence by the Turkish Cypriots; the disastrous, “sinful,” and “illegal” Annan Plan of 2004; and the “punitive” “bail-in” of 2013 during Cyprus’s financial crisis. Throughout, Melakopides argues that the only consistent supporter and friend of a weak Cypriot state has been Moscow, which recognized [End Page 146] that Cyprus was caught between the uneven struggle of British imperialism, US realist foreign policy, and immoral Turkish behavior.
Overall, Melakopides provides a narrative from a distinctly Greek-Cypriot perspective, which does not necessarily result in inaccuracy but often loses focus and objectivity and tends to be tangential at times. He correctly recognizes that there are ideas that tie states and peoples together beyond narrow national self-interest, such as the bond that may exist between the Soviet Union/Russia with Cyprus and Hellenism. This is, however, very similar to Alexander Wendt’s constructivist argument, which recognizes that there are elements beyond strict geopolitical and national interests that drive policy for states. Melakopides wastes an opportunity to add anything original to the existing literature.
In addition, the last four chapters of the book are simply a narrative of events of the post–Cold War world, with the divided island of Cyprus attempting to maneuver in yet another changing landscape, characterized by the emergence of the European Union, a hegemonic United States, and a transitioning Russia. Melakopides continues to push the pragmatic-idealist argument in Cyprus-Russia relations on issues including the stationing of S300 missiles on the island and the crisis it created with Turkey, EU membership for Cyprus, the Annan-Plan of 2004, and even the bail-in of Cypriot banks and the Ukraine crisis. He provides anecdotal evidence of the personal connections and cultural affinity that exists between Cyprus and Russia by pointing to the 2010 visit of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and cooperation in the areas of tourism and banking.
In sum, the book is a good narrative of Russian-Cypriot relationships but provides only a limited contribution to international relations and geopolitics theory. Studying the Cyprus-Russia relationship could certainly lead to a wider understanding of the motivations of Russian foreign policy beyond Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean. Melakopides, however, is too ambitious in his attempt to extrapolate wider conclusions from a single case study. He in fact recognizes the difficulty of the project and is even aware that his use of the familiar Greek and Greek-Cypriot narrative might be a “bit polemic.” Still, the biggest shortcoming of this book is not so much its tone but rather the forced theoretical perspective and Melakopides’s struggle to place this bilateral relationship within the wider context of an evolving international system. Ultimately, he takes a very narrow view of Russian foreign policy that ignores the wider global context. Furthermore, he utilizes...