The State Department has switched off the lights for Victoria Nuland’s (lead image, right) planned meeting in Cyprus this week with President Nicos Anastasiades (left).
Cyprus sources confirm that Nuland is expected to arrive in Nicosia on Wednesday. The Greek press was told last Friday the visit is scheduled for this week, and that the State Department is giving “assurances that the American official is not going to make any suggestions or to lobby.”
State Department spokesman Elizabeth Trudeau said Monday “As of today, I have no travel to announce.” After official confirmation from Cyprus was relayed to her, Trudeau said: “as of today, we have no travel to announce. If that changes, we’ll certainly let you know.” Asked to explain the blackout, and to clarify if Nuland is currently in Washington, Trudeau refused to say.
The semi-secret Nuland trip comes after a weekend of hints from senior Cyprus officials that the US has been pressuring Anastasiades to accept Turkish military occupation of northern Cyprus under a NATO flag, and that Anastasiades’s past involvement with a fugitive Russian businessman, Leonid Lebedev, is one of the pressure-points in the meetings Nuland has held with the Cyprus president in April and July
In Cyprus on Sunday, the Cyprus Mail, a pro-NATO English-language newspaper on the island, reported: “a government source who spoke on condition of anonymity categorically ruled out the NATO-base scenario, saying it is simply out of the question because it would never be backed by main opposition Akel, whose help will be absolutely vital in garnering public support for any proposed settlement. ‘Although [a NATO base] would solve many problems,’ the source mused.”
The newspaper quoted the president’s spokesman, Nicos Christodoulides, as saying there has been a connection between Lebedev’s business and the law firm which Anastasiades ran before he became president in February 28, 2013, and where his two daughters are partners. “The president is not implicated in this [Lebedev] case,” the spokesman said. “Conceivably, the law firm might be implicated. They can comment, if they want.”
The Cyprus Mail also confirmed that in 2011, when Anastasiades was still a private lawyer and his firm was acting for Lebedev (below, left) , Lebedev had obtained Cyprus citizenship. This had been kept secret from the Federation Council in Moscow, where Lebedev occupied a senate seat representing the Chuvash Republic. The law firm also kept the secret from a Cyprus court hearing a multi-million dollar loan repayment claim by a German bank against Lebedev. According to the Cyprus newspaper’s report, Neoclis Sylikiotis (right), the Interior Minister in charge of citizenship applications at the time, now says: “I don’t remember [Lebedev’s] case specifically, but I do remember a similar one at around the same time.”
Sylikiotis denies that Anastasiades or his law firm had arranged Lebedev’s citizenship while concealing his status as a Politically Exposed Person (PEP) under Cyprus and European Union anti-corruption rules. “Absolutely not,” Sylikiotis was quoted as saying on the weekend. “Nor could there have been political interference. Citizenship applications were forwarded to Europol to make sure the applicant’s record was clean, then the finance ministry to make sure his investments in Cyprus met the required minimum for eligibility, then they came to the cabinet for approval, and everything was then notified to parliament.”
Financial records, company documents, email records, and witness testimony from the Anastasiades law firm, when Anastasuades was in charge, have been subpoenaed for a New York Supreme Court case. Lebedev is claiming $2 billion for his shares in the Russian oil company TNK-BP, now part of Rosneft. Len Blavatnik and Victor Vekselberg say they sold the shares to to Lebedev’s company Coral Petroleum for $600 million, and that Lebedev is concealing in Cyprus the record that he received the money. Lebedev has a home in Limassol and last visited there in May to meet his Cyprus lawyers. Since then the lawyers refuse to respond to the US court discovery orders. These are to be transferred shortly from the New York court to the Cyprus Attorney-General, Costas Clerides, for enforcement. For details, read this.
Lebedev fled Russia in 2014. He is now living in the US under protection from charges hat he defrauded the regional electricity utility,TGK-2, of more than $200 million, which he transferred through Cyprus legal entities managed by the Anastasiades law firm and deposited in several US banks. His Moscow lawyer, Alexei Grebenskoi (right) of the Moscow firm Advokat Pro, said late last month there is no case to answer, and that searches of several of Lebedev’s apartments and houses in the Moscow area are illegal.
Nuland was in Moscow last week for negotiations with Kremlin aide, Vladislav Surkov. The meeting was telegraphed well in advance, and details of their discussion of the war on the Ukrainian front reported in detail in the Russian press. The State Department daily briefing on the day confirmed Nuland “did meet on October 5th with Russian officials. I think the focus of their trip was in making progress on Ukraine, what are the next steps that need to be taken in order to get the Minsk agreements fully implemented.”
The State Department and the US Embassy in Cyprus have announced Nuland’s trips to Cyprus this year well in advance. So the blackout since the weekend has aroused speculation that Anastasiades has requested a postponement.
According to a Cyprus political source, who has been critical of Anastasiades’s performance, and of the record of his Democratic Rally (DISY) party since 2013, the alliance required to keep Anastasiades in power for a second term is now breaking up, as the DISY party faces a fresh round of voter losses at the municipal poll in December, after it lost support in the parliamentary election in May. “As for Anastasiades’s re-election, personally I don’t think he stands a chance. DISY has lost its majority at the parliament and cannot pass any reforms. The privatization bills are a good example of this. All parties of the opposition submitted new bills at the parliament to halt privatizations. DISY is on its own.”
Anastasiades, too, the source adds. “The issue is not whether or not to strike a deal, but what kind of deal. If Anastasiades agrees, for example, to Cyprus having NATO bases, in addition to the British bases — which are in any case also NATO bases – then this is a huge issue. On the other hand, guarantees for the implementation of a solution by the Security Council of the UN, where there’s a better balance of powers, is something that would look better and people would feel more safe. We’ve seen and still experience what Britain, Greece and Turkey have achieved as guarantor powers. As for the US, I think the entire Middle East is a vivid example of what guarantees it brings.”
Source: Dances with Bears