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Russian-inspired party aims to revitalize Cyprus politics

Belarussian Ivan Mikhnevich vice president of a new political party talks during an interview in capital Nicosia in southeast Mediterranean island of Cyprus, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. Mikhnevich says the Russian Cypriots who inspired the movement aim to mold Cyprus into a progressive European nation that rids itself of an antiquated, corruption-nurturing political system. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Belarussian Ivan Mikhnevich vice president of a new political party talks during an interview in capital Nicosia in southeast Mediterranean island of Cyprus, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. Mikhnevich says the Russian Cypriots who inspired the movement aim to mold Cyprus into a progressive European nation that rids itself of an antiquated, corruption-nurturing political system. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Russian Cypriots who inspired the creation of a new political party on the east Mediterranean island want to mould the country into a progressive European nation that roots out widespread corruption bred by an antiquated political system, the movement's vice-president said.

Ivan Mikhnevich, a Belarusian who holds Cypriot citizenship, said the "I the Citizen" party seeks to keep the island's politics on a centrist trajectory after its founders saw political discourse drifting toward the "ultra-right and left."

The 38-year-old Mikhnevich, who is a co-founder of the Cyprus-based international game developer Wargaming, said some notable figures' criticism of Turkey — whose 1974 invasion in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece split the island along ethnic lines — borders on "hate speech."

Mikhnevich said most of the 30,000 Russians who live in Cyprus are "politically passive." But it was the 2016 election of two far-right lawmakers that prompted a core group of Russian Cypriots to get involved in domestic politics.

Mikhnevich insisted "I the Citizen" is primarily a Cypriot party not intent on protecting the interests of Russians living in Cyprus. He said the party has rallied many Greek Cypriots to its cause with membership approaching 1,000.

"We're not about the Russian minority," Mikhnevich told The Associated Press in an interview Friday. "We feel ourselves Cypriots, we feel it as our home and we want to make this home better."

Among the party's goals is to create a culture of hiring on merit rather than political connections, getting the education system to become more multicultural and to establish a high-tech industry.

He said the party is also averse to communist-inspired economic policies espoused by major political parties in Cyprus.

Mikhnevich left Wargaming in 2014 and now runs a number of companies including Synergy Horizon, which supplies chemical products to the oil and gas industry.

He said the party isn't considering fielding a candidate in Cyprus' presidential election in January, but setting its sights on the 2021 parliamentary elections.

Mikhnevich rebuffed what he called "Russophobe" media reports suggesting Russian oligarchs' influence over Cyprus, saying real Russian money resides in places like London.

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