Ukraine needs a Cyprus Bargain | Jon Stanley


The war in Ukraine is a political and humanitarian disaster. Two peoples, in one country, look to regional peer rivals, the European Union and Russia. As NATO and the EU have expanded, especially since 2008 the risk for conflict has grown.

We have been here before. This happened in Cyprus. For 80 years Britain was painfully aware it had to protect the needs of both Turks and Greeks in Cyprus. That is easier done in a colony than a democracy. In some ways the transition from administration unit to country presented Ukraine the same problems, that eventually there would be an ethnonationalist split in domestic politics with a premium placed on one community winning all. 

In creating Cyprus as a country for the first time, and not a regional subunit, the British created the Guarantor system through the founding treaties of Cyprus. It made clear that Cyprus may not join any other country and both communities must be protected. We did this by holding onto sovereign base areas in Cyprus to secure our security needs and then create three guarantors of peace in Cyprus. They remain today the United Kingdom, Turkey and Greece.

In 1974 communal relations broke down. Turkey had a catch-22 decision to make, to preserve the unity of Cyprus or protect both communities by protecting the Turkish one. So the invasion of Cyprus began. Turkey continues to see its role in Cyprus as a guarantor and both sides have worked for years to create an eventual reunification.

It is only that the UK and Greece, and Turkey interpret our guarantor roles differently. We prioritise unity of the island, Turkey prioritises communal safety. With this one adverse event peace has been maintained for almost 50 years.

Russia clearly has security concerns in the Black Sea and also to have warm water access to the Mediterranean. Geography does not change so issues that seem 19th century to many are as relevant today as ever.

When the Treaty of Guarantee is looked at carefully we see striking parallels to Russian demands in Ukraine:

  • Neutrality
  • Not joining another military power
  • Security for all peoples and especially the Russian minority on its borders.

One possible model for dealing with Ukraine comes from the British experience in Cyprus. It would come in the form of a treaty of guarantee to defend the integrity of Ukraine and prevention of its incorporation into any external political body.

It would seek to develop a treaty between Russia and Ukraine for:

  1. A guarantee of safety to both communities in Ukraine
  2. The territorial integrity of Ukraine
  3. The creation of a Sovereign Base Area in Crimea, like ours in Akrotiri and Dhekelia. It would allow for equal economic and social rights to Ukrainians and Russian citizens but maintain Crimea as a sovereign military base. it would otherwise be free to engage with Ukraine fully on a civil basis. 
  4. The creation of Russia and possibly others as an independent guarantor power who could intervene independently to ensure points 1, 2 and 3 are maintained. 

This model works, and it had kept the peace since 1960. The 1974 intervention was in fact as exercise of that guarantor power by Turkey. All of this exists as a precedent and has proven to have worked.

The Treaty of Guarantee model would solve all the issues Russia has voiced concern over publicly. 

We in the West should consider this approach as a matter of urgency to save lives.


Photo Credit.

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