Greece said on Thursday it still seeks good relations with Moscow, a day after it expelled two Russian diplomats for trying to bribe officials and foment demonstrations to thwart a deal to allow the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to join NATO.
Greece reached an accord last month with its tiny northern neighbor to resolve a dispute over the former Yugoslav republic’s name, which had prevented FYROM from joining NATO and the European Union for decades. The June 17 accord still must be approved by a referendum in FYROM and a vote in the Greek Parliament. It is opposed by nationalists in both countries, some of whom have held demonstrations.
On Wednesday, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats and barred two other people from entering the country, accusing them of having meddled by encouraging demonstrations and bribing unidentified officials to thwart the agreement.
Athens has not given further details of the alleged plot. Russia has denied wrongdoing and responded in kind with expulsions of Greeks.
The incident was a rare hiccup in traditionally close relations between the two countries which, despite Greece’s longstanding membership in NATO, have religious and cultural links spanning centuries.
“Russia is a friendly country with whom we have very good historical relations, but Greece considers international law as the foundation of all bilateral and multilateral relations, so in defending our sovereignty,” Giorgos Katrougalos, the deputy to Greece’s foreign minister, told Reuters.
“We had to react to what we considered to be a breach of the obligations under international law of the diplomatic activities in our country,” he said. “Still, we believe that this is going to be an isolated incident exactly because it is in our intention to safeguard the very good Greek-Russian relations.”
NATO leaders agreed on Wednesday to invite FYROM to begin accession talks to join the western alliance, extending its reach in the Balkans in defiance of Russia.
Greece’s fragile left-right coalition under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras recently lost two lawmakers who quit in protest against the accord, bringing his parliamentary majority to 152 out of a total of 300 seats.
In a related development meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry complained on Thursday that FYROM was being sucked into the NATO military alliance by force, saying such moves deepened divisions and increased tensions in Europe.
“The sucking into NATO by force of Macedonia only confirms that the policy of ‘open doors’ has become an aim in itself and a tool to gain control of geopolitical territory,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. [Reuters]