Greece in a changing world

By Alexis Papachelas

It’s still too early to make predictions or draw conclusions about the Ukraine crisis. But some points can be made on the ways Greece is affected in a narrow geopolitical sense.

The first thing is that any natural gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean are crucial to Europe, particularly Germany and the northern nations, as the Ukraine crisis has emphatically exposed Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. It will take years, and many billions of euros, but northern Europeans need to hammer out a contingency plan as soon as possible. This will have major repercussions on the region and will impact on the exploration and transfer of Eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe.

Second, the West has proved incapable of dealing with the crisis in Ukraine. It backed forces that seriously diverged from the values and principles of the EU, and when Moscow took action, Europe and America were caught unawares. More experienced observers had voiced concerns but their warnings fell on the deaf ears of policymakers who underestimated Russia’s role. Realpolitik was lost on them.

Third, the US is taking some distance from the strategic role it has played over the past 70 years. It can no longer afford the financial and other costs from meaningless and destructive engagements like Iraq. For its part, Europe has little understanding of the concept of hard power, often behaving like an NGO pitched against relentless players.

The world is becoming multi-polar because nature is allergic to voids. China has found a renewed self-confidence and it shows. Israel is ignoring the US and more or less doing what it likes, Iran is playing a game of its own and Russia is getting ready to take the lead on the global chessboard. In that context, it’s extremely hard to predict what will happen in the Persian Gulf where some of the old kingdoms are crumbling, or in Syria and other states where western myopia has created several dangerous black holes.

Fourth, Greece has its own interests. In one sense, instability is good for Greece as it becomes more important to support the country and ensure that it does not degenerate into a failed state. Europeans need to understand that geopolitics comes before numbers. Late Greek statesman Constantine Karamanlis used to say that Greece belongs to the West, yet he never turned his back on Russia because he knew that a hooked fish has no leverage. At the same time, we should understand that outside interventions to protect minorities is something that Athens cannot back indiscriminately.

In any case, it is important to know where Greece should turn to in case of emergency. The reaction of our European peers in case of a crisis here would be of historic importance.