Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras criticized European sanctions on Russia as a “road to nowhere” on Tuesday and suggested that his country could serve as a “bridge” between Moscow and the West.
A week ahead of a planned meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, Tsipras told Russian media there was a chance for “a new impetus to the Russian-Greek relations which have very deep roots in history.”
We should see how our nations and countries can really cooperate in many spheres — the economy, energy, trade, agriculture — and find out where we can help each other.
The remarks reflect an historic relationship between two Orthodox nations and could also be interpreted as a threat to other European Union states.
Members of Tsipras’ cabinet have openly suggested they could seek Russian financial support if the rest of Europe will not give Greece debt relief nor relax the conditions of its bailout.
“If there is no deal, and if we see that Germany remains rigid and wants to blow Europe apart, then we will have to go to Plan B,” Panos Kammenos, the defense minister, has said.
Kammenos leads the right-wing Independent Greeks, Tsipras’ coalition partner. It advocates closer relations with Russia and sees Putin as a fellow social conservative who resists pernicious liberal influences from the West.
When it was in opposition, Tsipras’ far-left Syriza party opposed the European association treaty with Ukraine that triggered last year’s deterioration in East-West relations. Its pro-Russian orientation owes much to its rejection of the “neoliberal” project it calls the European Union.
Russia is a major trading partner for Greece. It accounted for 14 percent of its imports in 2013.
The Balkan country is also heavily dependent on Russian natural gas.
Earlier this week, Tsipras’ energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, announced that Russian companies would participate in a Greek tender for deep-sea oil and gas exploration.
Russia’s strategic goals in Greece extend beyond maintaining a monopoly position on its gas market and finding an ally in Europe to block more sanctions.
If Russia is to project power into the Mediterranean, it requires Greece’s acquiescence. Even if it improves relations with Turkey — and Putin appears to have found a friend in that country’s increasingly erratic and anti-Western leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — it could still be blocked by Western powers in the Aegean Sea. But once Greece succumbs to its influence too, the Mediterranean will be wide open.
Hence Western support for the Greek national government against the communists during the 1946-1949 Civil War.
Syriza’s ambiguous position on NATO inspires little confidence. The party says it seeks “the refoundation of Europe away from artificial divisions and Cold War alliances such as NATO.” One party lawmaker called for Greece to leave the alliance altogether last year but was quickly hushed down by more senior officials.