When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was not among those taken by surprise.
Still, he was confronted with three pressing, and difficult, decisions: how far to go in supporting Ukraine, limiting the impact of the inevitable turbulence in energy markets on the country and ensuring that the already tense relationship with Turkey does not deteriorate further at a time when the world’s focus would be on Europe’s most serious conflict after World War II.
Mitsotakis had been given a heads-up of Russia’s intention to invade Ukraine a week earlier, at a time when both France and Germany appeared, outwardly at least, assured that war would not happen. Intelligence agencies and the US Embassy in Athens had briefed him.
The prime minister presided over two Defense and Foreign Affairs councils, inner cabinet meetings, just before and after the start of the war. Both of those were attended by Environment and Energy Minister Kostas Skrekas, not an ex officio member of the councils, an indication of the urgency to ensure the country’s energy supply.
The decisions were quickly taken to send military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, arrange a meeting between Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and submit a proposal to the other EU leaders and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for an intervention to limit energy price hikes.
At the start of the war, the unified EU and NATO response was not yet a given, but, as soon as it was apparent that several NATO countries favored assisting Ukraine while avoiding direct confrontation with Russia, Mitsotakis felt that Greece could not avoid involvement.
“If we didn’t show solidarity, how could we have the moral standing to ask for assistance if we were attacked?” he told Parliament a few days after Greece sent Ukraine AK-47-type assault rifles, many confiscated from a Libya-bound ship, 815 RPG-18 anti-tank missile launchers and 122 missiles for RM-70 multiple rocket launchers.
At the same time, Greece organized convoys to extract Greek expatriates from Ukraine, mostly the eastern city of Mariupol.
Mitsotakis also called Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who thanked him for Greece’s assistance.