Countdown to climbdown

By Athena Karsera

THE FATE of the S-300 missiles has finally been decided, leaving an aftermath of political and social dilemmas as a result of the two year saga.

March-December 1996

The saga began after suggestions by the Commander of the National Guard Nicolaos Vorvolakos and then Greek Defence Minister Gerasimos Arsenis for the purchase of an anti-missile umbrella system for the Paphos air-base.
4 January 1997

An agreement for the purchase of the S-300 missiles is made between Cyprus and Russia. Delivery date set for 18 months later.
6 January 1997

The purchase is officially announced. Clerides planned to use the missiles as a negotiation tool trading the cancelling of the missiles with demilitarisation.
7 January 1997

US Secretary of State Madeleine Allbright called the Cyprus government decision, “a destabilising element on the island and in the general area,” and “a step in the wrong direction.”
8 January 1997

Turkey threatens Cyprus with military action if it deploys the missiles
9 January 1997

Washington cautions Turkey, but repeats the opinion that Cyprus made the “wrong decision”.
10 January 1997

Britain too calls on Cyprus to reconsider the missile order.
13 January 1997

US State Department representative arrives in Cyprus proposing a flight moratorium as an alternative to the S-300s. Clerides rejects the suggestion.
4 June 1997

Richard Holbrooke is appointed to the position of US special envoy to Cyprus. The government believes this is a direct result of the S-300 deal.
15 October 1997

The annual military exercise ‘Nikiforos’ is carried out in a atmosphere of euphoria in anticipation of the missiles.
16 October 1997

Turkish F-16s buzz the C-130 carrying Greek Defence Minister Akis Tsotzahopoulos back to Greece from Cyprus.
8 November 1997

Turkey’s ‘Determination’ military exercise is carried out in the occupied areas with a scenario for the destruction of the missiles.
December 1997 to February 1998

Pre-election time, with Clerides basing his re-election campaign on the Joint Defence Pact and the S-300s.
9 January 1998

Clerides announces the opening of the Paphos military air base. Turkey threatens more military measures.
12 January 1998

After US intervention, the government announces that the opening of the military air base would be pushed back to March.
24 January 1998

The base is delivered to the National Guard, sparking a new wave of threats from Turkey.
15 February 1988

Clerides is re-elected president.
17 February 1998

The US’s congratulatory message to Clerides is clear: the missiles and the air base are not welcome.
March to April 1998

Clerides reinstates a proposal for demilitarisation in exchange for the cancellation of the S-300s. Turkey refuses.
Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos suggests a no-fly zone above Cyprus with Nato guarantees in exchange for cancelling the missiles. The US rejects this and wants complete cancellation of the deal.

11 May 1998

The government says it will not give in to any pressure.
June to July 1998

The US State Department shows interest in Pangalos’ proposal. Preparations on a moratorium are made without Nato’s participation.
June 1988

The National Council decides to postpone the missiles’ arrival until the end of 1998.
2 July 1998

UN special envoy to Cyprus Diego Cordovez arrives. Clerides says that the missiles will be cancelled if Denktash returns to the negotiating table. Denktash refuses.
9 July 1998

Defence Minister Yiannakis Omirou oversees a S-300 test run in Astrakhan, south Russia.
10 July 1998

Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz threatens the deployment of missiles in the occupied areas.
13 July 1998

Turkish press reports suggest that a fleet of F-16s is being trained in Israel for the destruction of the missiles.
7 August 1998

Clerides says there is foreign pressure on the government to cancel the missiles, but the government will not give in.
20 August 1998

Clerides announces that Greece and Cyprus do not accept the flight moratorium in the place of the S-300s.
September to October 1998

Leaks suggest that Greece has already decided that the S-300s should be installed in Crete.
5 October 1998

Omirou gives further assurances that the missiles will be installed in Cyprus.
22 November 1998

Clerides says the missiles are necessary for the island’s defence.
1 December 1998

Fears that Athens and Nicosia are at loggerheads over the missiles’ destination are played down.
4 December 1998

Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Clerides meet in Athens. Simitis suggests the missiles be installed in Crete, while Clerides suggests the missiles be stored in Cyprus, though perhaps not deployed.
8 December 1998

Germany warns the S-300s’ issue was likely to affect Cyprus’ EU accession prospects.
9 December 1998

US State Department Cyprus co-ordinator Thomas Miller arrives amid speculation that the government is poised to back down.
15 December 1998

Richard Holbrooke’s efforts in Athens to halt the deployment of the S-300s appear to have little impact on Nicosia.
16 December 1998

Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides says sufficient UN Security Council interest in Cyprus’ security could halt the missile deal.
23 December 1998

The National Council meeting called for Christmas eve after government suggestions that pre-conditions for non-deployment were being met by UN resolutions passed earlier in the week.
24 December 1998

The National Council meets. Clerides due to meet Simitis the following Monday in Athens.
29 December 1998

The decision not to deploy the missiles in Cyprus is announced.