Cyprus Russians take stock amid bailout woes

  • 26 March 2013
  • From the section Europe
Yekaterina Georgiadou
Image caption Yekaterina Georgiadou sees no sign of large numbers of Russians leaving Cyprus

Her estate agency might be lined with photographs of upscale apartments in her native Russia, but Yekaterina Georgiadou has no plans to head home any time soon.

She arrived in Cyprus from Moscow 12 years ago and now runs a small business in the coastal city of Limassol - home to an estimated 40,000 Russians.

"People are panicking, people are in shock," she says, "but we're not yet seeing evidence that Russians want to leave the country."

She feels there's been some unfair stereotyping of her fellow countrymen and women.

"There is dodgy money everywhere. "It's easy to say that Russian money is dirty, but where's the proof?"

It's a view shared by Medea, who owns Fur-a-Porter - a shop selling fur coats, which stands rather incongruously beside the swaying palm trees of one of Limassol's main roads.

Most of her clients are Russians - a mixture of locals and tourists.

She arrived in Cyprus from Georgia 15 years ago, attracted in part - she says - by the Orthodox religious links shared by Cypriots and Russians. Over the years she's put down roots.

"We live here, we work here, we have kids in schools. It's not so easy to just up sticks and go."

'Like vultures'

Image caption Lawyer Andreas Neocleous fears Cyprus will be badly hit if the Russians go

And it's not just Russians who are feeling like the injured party.

Limassol-based Andreas Neocleous is one of the leading lawyers in Cyprus. He's had a long - and close - relationship with Russia.

Over a decade ago, he was invited by the Russian parliament to explain why Cyprus' impending EU membership wouldn't be a threat to Russian interests on the island.

He may find it harder to put a positive spin on the latest turn of events. So far, he says, he's not heard that any of his Russian clients are planning to go, but he says that these are early days and he's not optimistic.

"We'll be badly affected if the Russians go," he tells me in his sixth floor office, "and I fear that it will happen."

Stoking his fear, he says, is the fact that his Russian clients are being openly courted by the countries he sarcastically refers to as "our friends in the north".

"Just today, I received 200-300 emails from German, Dutch, Swiss companies offering their services to my clients - mainly Russians - on the assumption that they'll be leaving the country," he adds, with what he describes as a sardonic smile,

"To me, they are like vultures."

But Cyprus-based Russian lawyer, Oleg Lvov, says it would be wrong to expect an imminent outflow of Russian capital because many of those who kept large amounts of money in Cypriot banks have already put it elsewhere - especially those who listened to him.

"I advised my clients to start taking their cash out of the country a year-and-a-half ago," he tells me in a seaside restaurant in Larnaca.

"That's not to say there's not Russian money in Cyprus, it's just not in banks."

Exactly where it is, he wouldn't say, but he insists that his compatriots had learned a lot from bitter recent experience.

"Russians have been through three financial crashes of our own," he smiles, "so we've had plenty of practice in how to get our money out of countries."