With the growing tensions between Russia and the West hitting the headlines, Moscow and Athens continue to develop their bilateral relationship in all areas.
On November 1-2, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited the friendly country – a NATO and EU member. He met with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and his Greek counterpart, Mr. Nikolaos Kotzias. 2016 is a cross-cultural year marked by two important dates: 185 years from the date of tragic demise of Ioannis Kapodistrias, a Greek Foreign Minister of the Russian Empire and one of the most distinguished politicians and diplomats of Europe,, and the 1,000-year presence of Russian monks in the northern Greek peninsula (the autonomous Orthodox Christian monastic sanctuary of Mount Athos).
The visit was part of a special program to develop friendship between the two Greek Orthodox nations, including about 170 events in culture, science, education, tourism, sport, economy and trade. The 190th anniversary of the Sea Battle of Navarino, where the Russian fleet aided in the liberation of Greece from the Ottoman Empire, will be marked next year.
The meeting’s agenda included trade, investments and energy cooperation, as well as pressing international issues. The Joint Russian-Greek Commission on Economic, Industrial, Scientific and Technical Cooperation held its tenth session in Athens on November 4, 2016. The tourist flow from Russia to Greece increased by 20 per cent in the first half-year to set an all-time record.
New investment opportunities appeared as a result of the agreement signed between Enterprise Greece and Invest in Russia during the President Putin’s visit to Athens in May. The deal includes such areas of cooperation as tourism, railway lines, ports, energy, food, agricultural production, supply chains, environmental management and health. It gives particular attention to developing ways to attract Greek investments and exports to Russia.
Mr. Lavrov noted that Moscow and Athens have promising prospects in energy sector. «We share the opinion that we have a significant potential in energy sector. It is likely that we are facing a special discussion with a view to a specific result», the top Russian diplomat said.
Athens maintains close ties with Moscow, opposing the EU sanctions imposed on Russia. The day after Alexis Tsipras's Syriza party won the election, the Prime Minister objected to calls for further sanctions against Russia and voiced his solidarity with Moscow and the Russian people.
«As regards our relations with NATO, we appreciate Greece’s disagreement with the policy of sanctions and its wish for further dialogue on the Ukrainian crisis», Lavrov said in a statement after meeting with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias on November 2.
The relationship includes military cooperation. In May, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said Greece will seek to obtain a license to manufacture Kalashnikov assault rifles in Patra as soon as the EU lifts ends its trade embargo against Russia. The co-production in a factory in Aigio in northern Peloponnese is expected to be a major boost for Greece’s defense industry. Greece is in talks with Moscow for the purchase and maintenance of the Russian-made S-300 air defense systems, which it has possessed since the late 1990s. Top NATO officials have raised concerns that attempts by Greece to forge a defense pact with Moscow could seriously undermine the united front against Russia.
Mr. Kammenos has openly supported the Russia’s position on Ukraine. According to him, «The Greek population in Crimea was attacked by the fascist Ukrainian government and the Greek families were protected by Russian forces». Speaking at the 4th Moscow International Security Conference held in April, the minister claimed the EU’s sanctions had «been a disaster both for Russia and the EU».
It was symbolic that the weekend before the Lavrov’s visit, Russian destroyer Smetlivy dropped anchor in Greece's main port of Piraeus before sailing onto the east Mediterranean to join warships backing government forces in Syria's five-year-old civil war. The ship participated in the festivities dedicated to the cross-culture year.
Greece is not the only EU and NATO member openly challenging the anti-Russia policy imposed by the US. The country belongs to a large group of EU members who oppose the anti-Russian sanctions policy and their voices have been getting louder recently. Greece realizes that the EU is going through hard times. «The purpose, even existence, of our Union is being questioned», EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini wrote in the foreword to the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy – the new document that was published this summer.
Unity may be the word omnipresent in NATO’s official documents but there are serious differences dividing the alliance on major issues. Italy, France and Greece oppose the bloc’s policy on Russia. According to a Pew Research Center, only 34 percent of Europeans believe Moscow endangers the continent, tapping instead Islamic State and economic instability as primary challenges.
NATO and the EU will soon have to change their policies towards Moscow. These things are fickle, the relations have their ups and downs, but common values, orthodox culture, history and a sincere mutual affinity will always unite Russia and Greece.