NEWS

Ties with Moscow under strain after Athens expels diplomats

DORA ANTONIOU

TAGS: Diplomacy, Politics

The outlook for bilateral ties between Greece and Russia was unclear on Wednesday amid tensions prompted by Greece’s decision to expel two Russian diplomats who are alleged to have sought to intervene in domestic affairs and national security.

Commenting on Kathimerini’s revelation that Athens was planning to expel two Russians, and bar entry to another two, over perceived attempts to broaden Russian influence in Greece, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told Skai TV on Wednesday that Greek authorities “cannot tolerate behavior that violates international law and does not show respect to the Greek state.”

“It is our assessment that there has been such behavior, and for that reason all necessary measures will be taken,” he added, without explicitly confirming the expulsions.

However, the impression given by both Tzanakopoulos and diplomatic sources was that Greece had taken issue with the Russian envoys in question, not the entire Russian mission to Greece. “Greece has proven that, in the context of a multifaceted foreign policy, it wants good relations with all states,” Tzanakopoulos told Skai, adding that “all states must respect international law as well as the Greek government and the Greek state.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry, for its part, indicated in a terse statement disseminated by local news agencies that it would “respond in kind” if its diplomats are expelled from Greece.

Greek sources indicated that such a move would be unjustifiable and would lead to a further deterioration of ties.

Diplomats in Athens on Wednesday elaborated on the insights revealed by Kathimerini’s report, noting that Greek authorities had long warned Moscow about the behavior of the Russian diplomats.

The key goal of Greek authorities is to send an unambiguous message to those who aim to interfere in domestic affairs, the diplomatic sources added.

According to those sources, the notification about the expulsions, delivered to Moscow last Friday, was the culmination of a series of incidents allegedly involving the four Russians.

As revealed in Kathimerini’s report, the diplomats are alleged to have sought to expand Russia’s influence in Greece, via local authorities and bishops across the country, and through organizations with close links to Moscow, including the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society.

The Russians are also alleged to have attempted to bribe Greek officials and to have sought to undermine the Macedonia name deal which was signed last month by Athens and Skopje after months of intensive negotiations. According to Greek sources, the Russian diplomats were involved in organizing protest rallies against the name agreement in northern Greece.

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