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Greece - Russia relations and the EU

07.04.2015 | 17:23
by Eleni Panayiotou

The upcoming visit of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Russia has tongues wagging and the media in a frenzy. Alexis Tsipras believes that the European Union's sanctions on Russia for the Ukraine crisis are pointless and that this would inevitably lead to a dead end. Furthermore the Greek Prime Minister expressed his opposition to an extension of the EU sanctions, due in late June.

Will Greece seek a helping hand from the "growling Bear" in a last minute attempt to avoid default? Should Europe fear that one of its members is about to jump ship? And is this the moment NATO has been dreading? Not so long ago these questions belonged in the conspiracy theory realm but with Greece on the brink and with a Left government in place international popular opinion is wondering whether Greece the birthplace of democracy could use its last and most dreaded card in a shrewd exercise of its democratic right and wage a deal with… the devil himself!

Alexey Gromyko, Director of Institute of Europe – Russian Academy of Sciences and grandson of one of the biggest diplomats in history – Andrei Gromyko – gives us his perspective on Greece – Russia relations as well as his opinion on the current Ukraine crisis.

So what of the relationship between Greece and Russia?
“Russia and Greece have been good friends for hundred of years”, says Gromyko, and adds that “the present situation is just one more manifestation of that. The new Greek leadership has taken quite an independent position towards relations with Russia due to several reasons, the most important one is aforesaid mutual affinity.”

Has Russia found an ally inside Europe? Gromyko openly states that the new Greek government is in his opinion “…not a part of the mainstream European political establishment and they are not so dependent on mindset and impulses dominant among Euro-Atlantic political circles, therefore they are free to be guided by common sense and reason, which say that anti-Russian sanctions is a blunder and detrimental to European security and prosperity.”

How far should Russian foreign policy stretch? Is Greece the key that Russia will use to open a European Pandora’s box? This seems to be current popular opinion with critics further implying that this may be an opportunity for Russia to disunite Europe, not however according to Gromyko, since the EU, he says, is disunited without Russia, as “it is not a state but 28 states with their own presidents, prime-ministers, ministers of foreign affairs, etc. All non-EU countries have bilateral ties with the EU member. Russia is not an exception.”

Theories about Russia tempting Greece in its moment of weakness, haven’t stopped at a European exit but with Russia extending an invitation to the Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, theories concerning Greece’s membership to NATO and a possible abandonment of the Alliance have emerged with some believing that Russia could try to tempt Greece from leaving the Alliance resulting in the imminent destabilization of the area. Alexey Gromyko believes that this is a “ridiculous policy for Russia to pursue” and adds that “Russia is not interested in destabilization in any region of the planet, least of all in Europe”.

One must not however overlook the importance of the South-Eastern flank. Playing Russia and Europe against each other is a card that many have considered that SYRIZA is willing to play in a tactic that may be desperate but might nevertheless bear the necessary fruit “It is inappropriate to analyze Russian foreign policy in terms of putting other countries against each other. Russian strategy consists of having as much stable and friendly neighbors, immediate and distant, as possible”, says Gromyko.

Here it is worth pointing out that there are two sides to every coin. The other side to the ‘Greece – Russia relations’ coin, are recent statements by Alexis Tsipras and the Greek government that “Greece and Cyprus can become a bridge of co-operation between the EU and Russia”. Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades was the first to implement this when he recently renewed a military agreement between Russia and Cyprus allowing Russia install navy and air bases in Cyprus. A step which received criticism by many, including Great Britain. “Russia is free to maintain [military bases] wherever it is conducive to its strategic interests and is welcome by host countries”, says Gromyko and adds that “Russia is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council, maybe apart from China, with so few military bases abroad”.

Further to this both Greece and Cyprus disapprove of the ongoing sanctions placed on Russia, which have created internal turmoil in the country. Alexey Gromyko recognizes that the Russian economy is suffering but, as he says, “at a cost to all the businesses in countries which introduced the sanctions”, in fact during Tsipras’ visit the Greek government hopes that Moscow will loosen the counter-sanctions against Greek imports. Gromyko compares Russia to Cuba and insists that if Cuba successfully sustained sanctions for fifty years then Russia will also manage, furthermore, he foresees that “sanctions against Russia, at least in Europe, will be phased out much quicker than many think”.

Despite this, a year after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, with over 6000 dead and two ceasefire agreements, the conflict in Ukraine is still very much ongoing. This reinforces the fear in the West that Russia will use hybrid warfare tactics in neighbouring countries such as Moldova as well as the Baltic states. However, the Ukrainian crisis says Gromyko, “was not the making of Russia but of those who illegally seized power in Kiev, trumped upon the 21st February agreement and by those who condoned it". "
If in spite of the Ukrainian crisis Moldova is pressed to follow the same pattern and to become an anti-Russian state, it will not escape destabilization and not because of Russia but because of its own internal diversity", he adds.

And what about NATO? It is NATO so called expansion which has been blamed by some experts for Russian aggression tactics however a majority in the West consider NATO’s stance a necessary defence measure. According to Gromyko and in reference to the 2008 summit in Bucharest when, as he says, Washington succeeded in keeping NATO membership “doors open“ for Georgia and Ukraine, “any country would react in the same way as Russia if a major military block was approaching its borders”.
Nevertheless he believes that it is “the Ukrainian political class who is at fault for the Ukrainian crisis”.

As far as the role which Putin’s Russia has on today’s world stage, Alexey Gromyko is quite clear that Russia and Vladimir Putin are two separate matters. Russia he says is a country of 1200 years of history and “Putin is a president who at the moment is supported by more than 80% of the country’s population. One may like it or dislike it but this is the fact of life”

How then would Andrei Gromyko handle the Ukraine Crisis if he was alive today? The answer for Alexey Gromyko is a simple one. The phrase his grandfather is most well known for: “Better ten years of negotiation than one day of war.”


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