Press Release
4 September 1998

Washington Rebuffs Turkish Fear Over Russian Missiles for Cyprus

The US State Department has refuted Turkish claims that the Russian missiles due to arrive in Cyprus later this year are intended for offensive strikes. Ankara argues that the SA-10C Surface-to-Air missiles – also known as S-300 PMU-1’s – could be converted into Surface-to-Surface missiles (SSM), threatening Turkish territory. An internal document prepared in January 1998 for the negotiating team of former US envoy to Cyprus, Richard Holbrooke, states that:

„Given the difficulty – and small gain – from using the SA-10C in a SSM role, we would judge that the Turks are incorrect in their assessment, and that the Greek Cypriots are intending to use the SA-10C only as an air defense asset. ...The bottom line is that, though technically feasible, it would be highly improbable that Nicosia would use the SA-10C for a SSM role ... The procedures involved in making a SA-10C conversion to a SSM are so complex and cumbersome, the Greek Cypriots would be unable to perform the procedure themselves".

The document, which is based on the assessment of experts at the US Army Missile and Space Intelligence Center (MSIC), goes on to state that even if the Cypriots were using the missiles in a surface to surface mode, their range would be very limited.

„The maximum effective range for the SA-10C as a SSM would be 30km – far short of reaching the Turkish mainland or even Turkish Cypriot units on Cyprus".

The paper concludes that:

„Using the SA-10C as a SSM is similar to taking a Porsche, mounting a plow on the front, and using it to clear snow - possible, but highly unlikely. It is stretching logic to believe that the Greek Cypriots would be spending between $140-200 million for a SAM to convert it into a glorified multiple-rocket launcher or SSM – a system that could otherwise be purchased on the world market with arguably far less complications".

„Turkish politicians have repeatedly used questionable and unfounded arguments when criticising the Greek Cypriots for acquiring these air defence missiles", says Otfried Nassauer, Director of BITS. „I wonder what the real interest of the Turkish government is: Creating tensions or stopping the deployment of these missiles, which indeed are part of an intensified and destabilising regional arms race".

„The Cypriots would be threatening their own capital, Nicosia, never mind Turkey if they use these missiles for offensive purposes", says Tasos Kokkinides, senior analyst at BASIC.

For background information on the planned deployment of the Russian missiles in Cyprus and the unrelenting military build-up in the region see BASIC’s research paper released in August 1998, titled „Diplomacy and Arms: West Sends Mixed Messages to Aegean Adversaries".

For further information contact:
Tasos Kokkinides, BASIC, +44 171 925 0862
Otfried Nassauer, BITS, +49 30 441 0220