NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The Cypriot president said Thursday that joint military maneuvers with three other European Union member states underway in the Eastern Mediterranean underscore the bloc's readiness to ensure security and stability in the region.
President Nikos Christodoulides said the drill with France, Italy and Greece is of “particular geostrategic significance” for the 27-member bloc and others, including the United States.
Christodoulides said his government is putting a “special emphasis” on upgrading the island’s military installations in order to take full advantage of its geographical location at the southeasternmost corner of Europe and close to the Middle East and Africa.
He spoke ahead of a visit to the French frigate Chevalier Paul, which is taking part in the drill, and stressed that the show of strength is not turned against any other country — a veiled allusion to Turkey, with which Cyprus shares a violent past, including a 1974 Turkish invasion brought on by a coup aimed at forming a union with Greece.
Since then, the island has been divided along ethnic lines, with the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north separated from the Greek Cypriot south where the internationally recognized government is seated.
NATO-member Turkey does not recognize Cyprus as a state, and claims much of the island’s offshore exclusive economic zone where several significant natural gas deposits have been discovered.
The five-day drill, which kicked off on Monday and is code-named EUNOMIA 4-2023, involves naval and air forces, including French Rafale jet fighters and Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft, according to a Cyprus Defense Ministry statement.
The exercise also includes for the first time this year civilian evacuation drills in the event of a regional emergency.
Britain used Cyprus as a waypoint to evacuate hundreds of its citizens from Sudan when fighting erupted there between Sudanese military and a rival, paramilitary force in mid-April. As chaos and violence engulfed the African country, many foreign countries rushed to evacuate their citizens from Sudan through complex airlifts and land convoys.