US Vice President Joe Biden visited Cyprus on Thursday to discuss their part in the energy market, but also to put pressure on leaders to support more sanctions on Russia.
The tiny island is a member of the European Union, but is one of the few holding back from severe sanctions on Russia. The island is a popular tourist attraction for rich Russians and provides them with a place to hide money due to lax banking laws.
“We certainly knew this during the Balkan crises that Cyprus does have a flexible banking system where some of these not very nice people are able to park their money so there’s always an issue of whether banking regulations in Cyprus and in a few other countries,” said [Former senior US diplomat Christopher] Hill. “…but Cyprus is one of them, can be strengthened such that people who are being sanctioned by the international community maybe don’t get away with it.”
Biden, the most senior official to visit Cyprus since Lyndon Johnson in 1962, told President Nicos Anastasiades the US is willing to help Cyprus heal an internal conflict that began in 1974 when Turkey invaded and split the country in two. The world recognizes the Greek Cypriot government, not the breakaway Turkish Cypriot in the north. Healing the country could move Cyprus up to one of the top energy providers due to the massive natural gas reserves off the coast.
“Cyprus is poised to become a key player in the eastern Mediterranean, transforming the eastern Mediterranean into a new global hub for natural gas and markets,” he said during a visit to Cyprus’s ethnically-split capital, Nicosia. “It is possible to reach a settlement that reunites Cyprus as a bizonal bicommunal federation.”
Due to the Ukraine crisis, Europe and Ukraine are exploring new options to receive gas and energy. Since Europe receives gas from Russia, the European Union has not placed sanctions against Russia’s energy sector. The US only recently decided to sanction Igor Sechin, President and Chairman of Rosneft, which is Russia’s largest petroleum company. Rosneft has a contract with ExxonMobil to drill in the Arctic Circle.