The so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (TRNC), an internationally unrecognised de facto state on the island of Cyprus backed by Türkiye, will allow Russian airlines to operate direct flights to Lefkosa/Ercan starting on November 15, 2022, the Milliyet daily has reported.

The first flight is scheduled to coincide with the 39th anniversary of the TRNC's unrecognised declaration of independence from Cyprus. On the same day, the new Ercan airport terminal and runway will open. As a mark of political support, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to travel on the first direct flight from Russia to Ercan. It is not yet clear which airline will operate the flight. A formal announcement is expected in the following few days.

At present, given the TRNC is only recognised by Ankara, the only direct flights to/from the region operate to/from Türkiye. Russia has not, so far, signalled its intention to recognise the TRNC as UN Security Council Resolution 541/1983 explicitly called the TRNC's declaration of independence illegal and urged all UN Member States not to recognise the self-declared polity.

If Russian airlines start serving Ercan, they would most likely be denied access to the Republic of Cyprus. As the island state is a part of the European Union (EU), Russian carriers are currently banned from flying there due to sanctions imposed for the invasion of Ukraine. Türkiye, meanwhile, is a key international gateway to Russia and is now also a main international market for Russian carriers.

This step to start flights to the TRNC, if it does happen, is reportedly linked to a recent US decision to lift an arms embargo on Cyprus, imposed in 1987 to facilitate reconciliation between the independent state and the TRNC. The lifting of the embargo from 2023 will end Cyprus's dependence on military contracts with Russia - until now, it was not allowed to procure not just US-made supplies but also any military hardware that contained US-made parts - but also compels Nicosia to ban Russian warships from docking in any Cypriot ports. Türkiye has condemned the US decision and called it detrimental to efforts to finding a lasting solution to the Cyprus problem.

Editorial Comment: The article updates to reflect the plans to launch flights. - 20.09.2022 - 11:59 UTC