NEWS

Athens had no choice but to expel Russian diplomats, sources say

VASSILIS NEDOS

TAGS: Politics, Diplomacy

The evidence regarding Moscow’s meddling in Greece with regard to the name deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is “irrefutable” according to Greek diplomatic sources after two Russian diplomats were expelled and two Russian nationals were barred from entering the country.

Athens says that Moscow tried to stoke opposition to the name deal as it paved the way for FYROM’s induction to NATO, by trying to bribe officials at cultural centers, members of the business community, Orthodox clergymen, as well as extreme-right groups.

Speaking to the Financial Times, a senior Greek diplomat said, “The Russians wanted to bring about a breakdown of the talks,” and, “They stepped up their normal meddling in [the Greek regions of] Macedonia and Thrace.” Moreover, according to two sources cited by the FT, one of the instances of Russian intervention took place in the northern port city of Alexandroupoli, home to a small community of Russian citizens.

The FT said the “two Russian diplomats were well known in the port,” adding that one Russian bribery attempt failed when a Greek military officer reported the incident to his commander.

This is the latest spat between Athens and Moscow, whose relationship has been strained over the last two years. However, despite problems stemming from different strategic outlooks regarding the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkey, Greece has been trying to contain the tensions for months.

A case in point is that, despite its membership in NATO and the European Union, Athens sought to strike a balance with Moscow and did not expel Russian diplomats over the poisoning in London of Skripals, citing a lack of credible evidence, even though it came under intense pressure from its Western allies to do so.

But sources said the government had no choice but to expel the Russian diplomats as the evidence against them was overwhelming. However, Athens sought to send a milder message by expelling low-ranked diplomats.

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