Athens, Greece – The bonds between Greece and Russia run deep.
Greek monks transformed the Russians to Orthodox Christianity and gave them their alphabet within the ninth century. Russia’s navy helped safe Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire a thousand years later.
A mystical perception amongst some Greeks persists – that Russia will finally assist them reconquer Constantinople, right this moment’s Istanbul, their former imperial capital, which fell to the Turks in 1453.
This background partly explains why Greece is likely one of the least anti-Russian international locations within the Western camp, and why Russia is preventing fiercely for its allegiance.
A Eurobarometer ballot on Could 6 confirmed that 53 % of Greeks assist sanctions in opposition to Russia, in contrast with a European Union common of 80 %.
Simply 40 % of Greeks supported financing weapons purchases for Ukraine, versus 67 % of Europeans.
A mid-March survey by Politico confirmed that 60 % of Greeks discovered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “unacceptable”, in contrast with 88 %, 86 %, 82 % and 78 % within the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and France respectively.
Emmanuel Karagiannis, a reader in worldwide safety at King’s Faculty London, drew parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and its declaration of a Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus there.
“Each Moscow and Ankara have claimed that they search to guard compatriots who’ve supposedly suffered by the bulk ethnicity. In actuality, each Russia and Turkey have weaponised minorities to undermine the sovereignty of unbiased states for geopolitical and ideological causes,” Karagiannis advised Al Jazeera.
Following this logic, the Greek authorities has damaged with public opinion.
“We took sides. Unequivocally. We stand by Ukraine in opposition to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s aggression … He won’t succeed,” Greek premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis advised a joint session of Congress on Could 17 to a standing ovation.
That event itself was a excessive watermark in Greek-United States relations.
Three-fifths of the Greek parliament not too long ago ratified a much-expanded defence settlement with the US, which permits Washington to make use of the Greek port of Alexandroupolis as a logistics hub for the provision of NATO allies Romania and Bulgaria.
From Alexandroupolis, it is just a 750km drive to the Ukrainian and Moldovan borders, and far weaponry is rumoured to have been shipped to Ukraine through Greece.
Greece was additionally one of many first Western international locations to overtly ship Ukraine weapons in March.
It was not a lot – two C-130 transport planes loaded with Kalashnikov rifles, bullets and rocket-propelled grenades meant for Libya, which Greece had confiscated on the excessive seas as a part of an EU weapons embargo.
However Greece’s direct intervention with deadly materials was symbolic.
Russian overseas ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova referred to as the choice “deeply mistaken” and “felony”.
Two-thirds of Greek society reportedly agreed together with her, and the federal government didn’t repeat the transfer, however its pro-Ukraine coverage has not wavered.
Moscow accuses Athens of ‘deconstructing’ bilateral relations
In early April, some 200 Russian diplomats have been expelled from European capitals in protest in opposition to the obvious battle crimes dedicated in Bucha. Greece expelled 12 – a proportionally excessive quantity.
Russia is clearly aggravated.
Zakharova stated Greece was actively “deconstructing” bilateral relations.
“The Greek state, which was created with Russia’s assist and whose first chief was the Russian overseas minister, is successfully left with out diplomatic relations with our nation,” she stated.
Taking part in on these historic themes is deceptive, stated Alexander Kitroeff, a professor of historical past at Haverford Faculty.
“Russian overseas coverage from the 1860s onwards is pan-Slavist, pro-Bulgaria, pro-Serbia – and Serbia and Bulgaria turned Greece’s rivals over Macedonia. So in impact, Russia isn’t on Greece’s aspect, it’s on the alternative aspect,” he advised Al Jazeera.
However “it’s not a lot a query of shedding Russian assist,” stated George Katrougalos, a former overseas minister with the left-wing Syriza occasion, as not being taken with no consideration by the allies one is appeasing.
“Even the US … has truly decreased its assist for Greek positions,” he advised Al Jazeera. “They withdrew assist for the East Med [gas pipeline], and even from the East Med Act of 2019 which supplied for the US monitoring Turkish violations of Greek airspace.”
The East Med, a pipeline Greece has pledged to construct with Cyprus and Israel to move Israeli and Cypriot gasoline to the EU market, has been a significant irritant to Turkey.
And Turkey has been accused of violating Greek airspace as a means of displaying it disputes Greek sovereignty within the east Aegean. Turkey has additionally not too long ago claimed that Greece has entered its airspace.
Katrougalos’ wariness of the US is not only a left-wing place.
It permeates Greek society as a result of the administration of former US President Richard Nixon failed to stop the Cyprus invasion in 1974. Many Greeks consider then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger actively inspired it.
And NATO, which counts each Greece and Turkey as allies, does little to stop airspace rows.
“The Russians don’t have anything to supply Greece when it comes to controlling Turkey, and wouldn’t need to if they may,” stated Constantinos Filis, who directs the International Affairs Institute on the American Faculty of Greece. “The crimson line of the Individuals [vis-à-vis Turkey] appears to be the avoidance of battle [with Greece]. However that isn’t sufficient for Greece. It means Turkey has a large scope for doing issues to Greece it shouldn’t do.”
Maybe unsurprisingly, Greeks have come to treat the US and Russia with nearly equal suspicion, and are as an alternative Europeanists.
A survey of Greek opinion carried out by the think-tank Dianeosis simply after the battle in Ukraine broke out requested Greeks to select a single reliable ally.
Solely 6.7 % picked the US, and simply 4.8 % picked Russia, however 65 % selected France, with which Greece signed a defensive alliance final 12 months.
Greece, NATO’s prime per capita defence spender, can be among the many EU’s prime supporters of a European military, however the Ukraine battle is pushing that prospect additional into the longer term, say consultants.
“European defence is a dream for a few of us … the Ukraine battle taught us that there isn’t any European safety with out the US and NATO. The [membership bids] by Finland and Sweden underline that,” Filis stated.
Katrougalos agrees. “If we would like Europe to be unbiased on the worldwide stage, it should present strategic autonomy and European sovereignty … [we want] a Europe that will likely be a global participant with a balancing function,” he stated.