As if the leaders of European Union member-states did not have enough complicated and dangerous issues to deal with at their summit in Brussels – Brexit, enlargement in the Western Balkans, relations with Turkey, strategy for the future, and the climate, among others – they must take important decisions, overcoming internal disagreements and under the cloud of uncertainty caused by the United States’ unpredictable behavior and Russia’s growing influence.
Greece and Cyprus are directly affected by all this. Two days ago, on the sidelines of the “Dialogue of Civilizations” forum on the Greek island of Rhodes, the Russian ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, heightened this sense of uncertainty. “We had warned the Kurds that the Americans will abandon them,” he told the Russian news agency TASS. “And here, in Rhodes, I can personally warn the Greeks about it, that they will have the same fate as the Kurds.”
He said that Greece was “wrong” to sign a revised defense agreement with the United States – but it was clear that Athens was not the only recipient of this “warning.”
It came at a time when the United States is pressing Cyprus to end an agreement whereby Russian naval vessels can visit Cypriot ports and pick up supplies, in exchange for the end of an American arms embargo against the Republic of Cyprus, even as relations between Moscow and Ankara grow stronger.
The Russian warning, however, comes within the context of the recent revelations that US President Donald Trump had made support for Ukraine conditional on a personal “favor,” and the constant Russian threat against Baltic countries, which are members of both the European Union and NATO – organizations which Trump has tried to undermine. In addition, disagreement within the EU is holding up the start of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, raising the risk that these countries will seek closer ties with Moscow.
Russia’s influence, though, is strengthened more by the disappointment provoked by the United States and the EU than by any great admiration of what Russia has to offer. Moscow can fill the vacuum left by others and with its military and intelligence services can disrupt other countries and balances, but it does not provide the social and political benefits that the European Union can.
However, as long as America keeps losing credibility and the EU cannot shape a strong strategy, Russia’s influence will grow. This will force smaller countries to improvise, seeking opportunistic alliances and short-term agreements, with all the dangers that this brings. The only hope is that the European Union’s leaders will understand this. It is a slim hope, but the only one.