NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus' foreign minister has rejected Russian claims that the U.S. is looking to set up a military base on the east Mediterranean island as a bulwark against expanding Russian influence in the region.
Nikos Christodoulides said Friday that he called his Russian counterpart to convey Cyprus' "grave concern" over the remarks from Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
"On the one hand, they don't correspond with reality and on the other, they're in breach of diplomatic decorum," Christodoulides told private TV station Sigma.
Christodoulides said Cyprus receives many foreign government requests to act as a potential waystation for evacuated citizens in case of a regional crisis. The minister told parliament recently that last year, the Cypriot government had permitted the use of the country's airports for humanitarian missions on 672 separate occasions as well as use of its ports 225 times.
Citing "several sources," Zakharova said Wednesday that U.S. officials had recently inspected military installations on Cyprus with the aim to set up a "forward deployment base for U.S. forces."
She also said Moscow had warned Cyprus that attempts to bring the country into U.S. and NATO plans for the region would entail "retaliatory action."
The remarks appeared to put strain on Cyprus' long-standing friendly relations with Russia, but Cyprus government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said the matter is considered closed.
Last month, Christodoulides and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell signed an agreement to look at ways of expanding cooperation on bolstering regional security.
Christodoulides ruled out seeking NATO's security blanket as part of any efforts to reunify ethnically divided Cyprus.