Europe // Analysis

09 april 2015

Greece-Russia Relations: A New Beginning?

Photo:
REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pixstream
Alexis Tsipras

On April 8-9, 2015 Greek Prime-Minister visited Russia. Mr. Tsipras’ decision to conduct talks with President Putin caused anxiety and concern in the EU and among Greek opposition.

RIAC asked RIEAS (www.rieas.gr) Editorial Team to comment on purposes and the results of Tsipras’ visit to Moscow.

International relations, it is often said, resemble a game of chess. A good chess player should strive to be ahead of his opponent by a move or two at all times. By visiting Moscow shortly after he decisively won a general election on January 25, 2015, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has obviously borrowed a leaf out of a good chess player's book.

Greece and Russia are linked by bonds of friendship that date way before the current geopolitical schemes which emerged in the aftermath of the Second World War. Greek governments maintained a temperate manner in their relations with the post-Stalinist USSR, a fact that was not diluted by Greece's membership in the Western alliance, the inevitable ups and downs notwithstanding.

This Greek «uniqueness» was often quoted as a potential element of «instability» in Western circles. Despite all this, life progressed with little upheaval, and today the same climate of good relations stands to experience a resurgence as the defining condition linking Athens and Moscow.

Today the climate of good relations stands to experience a resurgence as the defining condition linking Athens and Moscow.

Overwhelmingly, the Greek people see the current beating their country receives from the so-called EU-related, lender-controlled «institutions,» comprising the spearhead of the debt war declared upon Athens, as insulting and deeply damaging. Mr. Tsipras has made no secret he believes the same and that he is determined to do something about it.

Indeed, Mr. Tsipras and his administration find themselves on the receiving end of almost pan-European ridicule and, even, thinly veiled attempts to politically destabilize Greece as she struggles with an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and imminent default. European hawks, in fact, in total abandonment of sound politics, demand that Greece accepts as a «normal» measure her evisceration by debt that additionally needs to be suffered with a smile plus a timid recognition of her «moral duty» toward her lenders.

The fact that such demands are simply unacceptable does not seem to bother Greece's European «partners».

In light of all this, the Tsipras’ trip to Moscow acquires special significance at a time when Mr. Putin also finds himself at odds with the Western coalition.

On a state-to-state level, the Greek prime minister made clear that he seeks to re-establish smooth cooperation with Russia after a period of Greece coming under governments disinterested in maintaining Greek-Russian relations.

Internationally, Mr. Tsipras stresses that dialogue and mutual trust with Russia are important elements in the maintenance of peace at a time when unprecedented threats bubble furiously in many parts of the world. From a Greek standpoint, this is a prudent policy.

Strategically, Greece is in the unfortunate position of emerging as the buffer state for Europe on the eastern approaches. With Turkey gradually sliding toward an overtly Islamic regime, Greece is unlucky in having to face two geopolitical threats at the same time: emerging Islamism across her eastern frontier and an unstoppable wave of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Asia who add enormously to her current woes.

Russia's concerns regarding Islamic terrorism are well known. Russia, as a victim of Muslim extremism herself, is a key strategic interlocutor for Greece, who faces multiple potential threats from jihadist osmosis.

The Tsipras’ trip to Moscow acquires special significance at a time when Mr. Putin also finds himself at odds with the Western coalition.

Such bilateral dialogue acquires added importance in light of a rather blatantly obvious EU demand that Greece stands as the «guardian at the gates» to control jihadist penetration into «core» (read, 'western European') countries – but, without any tangible returns outside a strangely defined, but often quoted, European «solidarity» that appears tailored to serve primarily the domestic political interests of these «core» countries without much regard for Greece's own.

In economic relations, Russia plays a critical role vis-a-vis Greece. EU sanctions have crippled Greek-Russian trade at a time Greece is literally gasping for breath in the choke-hold of the lenders. With no relief from Brussels in sight, Mr. Tsipras is all too justified in seeking one-on-one deliberations with Russia on how to alleviate, in part at least, this ongoing disaster. Again, Greece's European «partners» are quick in waving the «solidarity» banner in Mr. Tsipras's face without offering even a moment's pause in their open vilification of his government.

The Greek prime minister's stance was in glaring contrast to that of his immediate predecessors, a fact that undoubtedly added to European discomfort over the possibility of a Greek geopolitical shift.

During the joint press conference with Mr. Putin, Mr. Tsipras was quick to react to the European criticism of his visit to Moscow by repeating that Greece, despite what many European believe, remains a sovereign country with a «multi-dimensional» foreign policy. The Greek prime minister's stance was in glaring contrast to that of his immediate predecessors, a fact that undoubtedly added to European discomfort over the possibility of a Greek geopolitical shift which is automatically considered inimical to Western interests amid the growing climate of a new Cold War.

Despite all this, the Tsipras trip to Moscow, Greek government officials stress, was a significant diplomatic success whose obvious potentialities need to further develop. In fact, there was no better proof of this success than Greece's main opposition parties marching in cadence to condemn and discount Mr. Tsipras's Russian trip when their stay in power was marked by the precipitous disintegration of Greece's longer term prospects.

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“Greece-Russia Relations: A New Beginning?,” Russian International Affairs Council, 09 April 2015, http://russiancouncil.ru/en/inner/?id_4=5637

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