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July 26, 2018 No.
7589

Russia In The World – Russia-Greece Relations: Diplomatic Tit-For-Tat

"Russia In The World" is a MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project review of Russia's geopolitical interests and areas of penetration. This installment will deal with Russia-Greece relations.


The original image was taken from Studiya 13's Facebook page.

In mid-July 2018, the Greek government accused Russia of meddling in Greece's domestic affairs.

According to Greece, Russia tried to foment opposition in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to undermine a deal between Athens and the Balkan country. However, a deal was brokered that ended a diplomatic standoff over Macedonia's name. Macedonia will change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia. The deal paved the way for an invitation to the Balkan country to join NATO.

The Greek media outlet Kathimerini also reported that Athens accuses Russia of trying to meddle, through "monetary rewards," in the municipalities and metropolitans in the Greek Orthodox hierarchy, and to gain influence in Mount Athos.[1]

As the NATO summit began on July 11-12, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats and banned the entry of two other Russian citizens. On July 13, Russia summoned Greek Ambassador to Russia Andreas Fryganas over the expulsion of the Russian diplomats. [2]

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Washington of being behind Athens' decision. However, the Greek media outlet Kathimerini wrote that Greek diplomatic sources dismissed Russian accusations against the U.S. as unfounded. "Claims of alleged U.S. pressure on Greece are entirely unfounded. The Russians seem to have difficulty understanding that a small state is able to defend its national interests," the sources said. "They are also having difficulty understanding our country's right to defend its national interests in the region and keep seeing third countries behind [our actions]," the sources added, saying that Greece does not allow third parties to intervene in its domestic affairs.[3]

On July 19, Russian Ambassador to Greece Andrei Maslov said that Russia will expel Greek diplomats. Maslov said: "We have already said that tit-for-tat measures will follow. I don't know when, who, and the exact number, but, of course, in accordance with the existing practice, there will be retaliatory measures."[4]

On July 22, commenting on Russia-Greece relations, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said that he is not concerned and hopes that any problems can be resolved in a friendly manner. Kotzias said: "[Russian Foreign Minister] Sergey Lavrov, whom I regard as one of the best diplomats on the international stage and with whom I have friendly relations, asked me to invite him to come to Greece to prepare Prime Minister Tsipras' visit to Moscow. And they invited him to Moscow. I extended this invitation, if he wants to come. If he doesn't want to come, he won't. He is welcome in any case. If he feels he has to identify with the people we expelled or with those we banned from entering Greece, that's his right. As you know, and our announcement says this, I tried not to identify these negative cases with official Russia. It's up to Russia whether it wants to identify with them... I am not concerned about Greek-Russian relations."[5] Lavrov was expected to go to Greece in September, but the visit was pushed back.

On July 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to President of Greece Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras over the tragic consequences of wildfires burning across Greece. Putin also offered Russia's support to tackle the fires and deal with the consequences of the disaster.[6]

Below are comments of Russian policy-makers and opinion-makers on Russia-Greece relations:


Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras and Vladimir Putin. (Source: Kremlin.ru)

Russia's MFA: The US Stand Behind Greece's Anti-Russia Decision

The Russian MFA commented: "Obviously, Washington stands behind this anti-Russia decision by the Greek Government that was timed to the opening of the NATO summit and was openly supported by a State Department statement."

(Mid.ru, July 13, 2018)

Russian MFA Spokesperson Zakharova: People In Greece Understands That This Is An Organized Campaign

During her weekly briefing, Russian MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova stated that the expulsion of the diplomats was an "organized campaign."

Question: "Many Greek media outlets that write about the current situation in Russian-Greek relations, claim that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov phoned his Greek counterpart before the latest crisis with the expulsion of Russian diplomats, threatening that Russia would suspend the agreement between Athens and Skopje at the UN Security Council. Did he make that telephone call? This is the first time in decades that such a large-scale anti-Russia campaign has been launched in the Greek media.

"It is also said that there is a video showing Russian diplomats offering bribes to Greek deputies to vote against this agreement. What can you say on this score?"

Maria Zakharova: "As for the first part of your question, where you asked if Sergey Lavrov threatened his Greek colleague, this is absolute nonsense. It is strange that the Greek side has not commented on this, considering that this information was published in the Greek media. This sets us wondering. This is nonsense, absurd or whatever Greek synonyms you would care to offer.

"I believe we have proved many times that even in the most complicated situations created by third parties in bilateral relations we never forget that the matter concerns the future of our countries and our people, who must not be made hostage to the dirty games played by certain states.

"In this particular case, it was a multi-move game in which Greece has been involved. We know this for sure. I believe that many Greek journalists, let alone Greek politicians, know this as well. We know about the powerful pressure put on Greece. I can assure you that this is so, because I have facts to prove this. Athens probably managed to stand up against the first onslaught. I am referring, in part, to the use of the so-called solidarity to involve Greece in provocations, in particular, those initiated by the UK.

"Greece was not the only country to refuse to do others' bidding. We know what instruments have been used against the countries and politicians who refused to bow to British actions and pressure. But pressure was increased, and it did not come just from British politicians but also from their American partners.

"As I already said, every country and national leadership must decide for itself how far it can go to resist such pressure. We understand this. It is another matter if people in Greece understand this. Judging by a number of publications, there is clear evidence of such pressure. And we know the person who directed this scenario of pitting Moscow and Athens against each other. It is not my task to speak about this. I believe the journalists can do it themselves.

"We believe that Greek people must be able to interact with Russian people and that they must be protected from the dirty provocations in which Athens has been regrettably involved. We are talking about politics, of course. Such things never go unnoticed, and they are never forgotten. Regrettably, they can only sour bilateral relations and have no constructive effect.

"As for the video, let's watch it. I cannot comment on what I have not seen. I don't have the faintest idea what it could be."

Question: "According to recent reports made in the Greek media, Russia allegedly intends to respond by having the Foreign Ministry issue some kind of guidelines to try to discourage Russian tourists from visiting Greece. Is this possible?"

Maria Zakharova: "Allow me to share my personal opinion on this matter. Over the past years Russians proved that they can decide on their own where to spend their holidays, considering their financial means, political views, and their desire to be involved in or distance themselves from any political matters, etc. People can decide for themselves whether to visit any specific country or not. It is true that the Foreign Ministry issues advice taking into consideration developments in various countries in terms of security, terrorism threat levels, epidemiological situation, or organized crime. I am saying this for those who go as far as to try to make up a news story out of this. This information is publicly available on the website of the Foreign Ministry or travel associations, etc. People in Russia can make up their own minds where to spend their holidays, and what to do.

"Of course, we have to understand that when negative articles are published or political figures from a specific country make offensive statements, this does not make Russians any more sympathetic. People are well-informed, they read a lot and have boundless access to information. Russia's information space is absolutely open. People read all these articles, and see all of this. From the conversations I have had here and there, I can say that people are weary of the groundless attempts to isolate our country, and the endless attempts to engage in sanctions warfare. People see that all this is groundless, unfair, and now simply wild. They are fully aware that the expulsion of diplomats is an organized campaign. I think that people in Greece also understand this. There is no need for any threats or guidelines. This is pure logic."

(Mid.ru, July 18, 2018)

Senator Dzhabarov: If Greece Were A Friendly Country, It Would Have Requested That The Russian Diplomats Leave, Without Any Noise

Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy chair, of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee chided the Greek government for its handling of the affair: "If Greece [were] a friendly country, it would simply have invited the [Russian] ambassador and requested that they [the diplomats] leave, without any noise and attracting media attention. Then, there probably would have been no reciprocal measures. These things happen, if the country is friendly, when work mistakes are admitted by diplomats."

He noted that following the Greek announcement doubt arises about its friendliness towards Russia.

"When dealing with such a declaration, serious doubt arises whether the country is friendly or is just following in the wake of all the anti-Russian campaigns. The Greeks did not proceed entirely correctly, it's a mistake", said the senator.

(Ria.ru, July 11, 2018)

Senator Klimov: Greece Is No Partner

Senator Andrey Klimov said that Russia never viewed Greece as its partner or ally in Europe: "Greece is part of NATO, and that alone will suffice", explained the senator.

(Ria.ru, July 11, 2018)

Senator Morozov: I Don't Think Russia-Greece Relations Will Drastically Deteriorate

Senator Oleg Morozov, international affairs committee, Federation Council:

"I don't think our relations [with Greece] will drastically deteriorate. Such actions are frequently encountered in international diplomatic practice." According to the senator the symmetric Russian reaction will be the end of the matter, "yet everything depends on the depth of the complaint and whether there will be a continuation from the Greek side." "Russian –Greek relations are generally quite positive, no one wants to seriously mess them up," said the senator.

(Ria.ru, July 11, 2018)

Russian Expert Pshenichnikov: This is A Gift That Tsipras Made To NATO

Igor Pshenichnikov, expert for the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, stated:

"It is clear that Greece's authorities made the decision to expel Russian diplomatic staff members under the pressure of their advisers from Brussels and Washington. This is a gift that [Greek Prime Minister] Alexis Tsipras made for the NATO summit... Any excuse can be found, and it is not worth talking about. May it weigh on the conscience of Greece's current authorities... Of course, it is being done for a reason. Bad relations with Russia are a condition for Tsipras' good relations with Washington and Brussels. This is obvious."

(Tass.com, July 12, 2018)

Russian Expert Kortunov: Both Sides Are Interested In Minimizing The Negative Effect

Andrey Kortunov, Russian Council for International Affairs CEO:

"The way it was presented reflects certain processes in the internal Greek political situation. A fierce struggle is proceeding, and the Russian factor is also present. The current Greek authorities decided to insure themselves, yet the situation resembles more a public relations action for domestic consumption. We do remember that Athens declined, being under London's pressure, to expel Russian diplomats after the Skripal poisoning, thus it's not about displaying general Western solidarity. Currently, all the passages about maintaining friendly relations with Russia were made, thus, though Russia will have to reciprocate, this incident will not seriously affect the relations. Both sides are interested in minimizing the negative [effect]."

(t.me/russiancouncil, July 9. 2018)

 

[1] Ekathimerini.com, July 11, 2018.

[2] Ekathimerini.com, July 14, 2018.

[3] Ekathimerini.com, July 14, 2018.

[4] Tass.com, July 19, 2018.

[5] Mfa.gr, July 22, 2018.

[6] Kremlin.ru, July 24, 2018.