Diplomatic tug-of-war as Moscow response awaited


As more details emerge about the alleged attempt by Russian diplomats to impose Moscow’s influence in northern Greece, the government is bracing for Moscow’s response to its decision to expel two Russian envoys. 

The move by Athens to expel two people and bar another two from entering the country over alleged attempts to intervene in domestic affairs and undermine national security, has fueled one of Greece’s biggest diplomatic crises in years.

There are hopes that Moscow’s response will be limited to the expulsion of low-ranking diplomats, the so-called “mirror measures” that Russia’s Foreign Ministry has suggested will follow.

However, some fear that Moscow might go a step further and take more drastic action, though it remains unclear what this might be.

Greek government officials insist that they had no other course of action, citing concrete evidence of risks to national security. The move was “unavoidable,” one government source said, “in order to send a clear message that we are aware of activities that go beyond all limits.”

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Russian diplomats in question did not only try to bribe church representatives and local authority officials in a bid to undermine the name deal between Athens and Skopje, but allegedly also attempted to infiltrate Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP) and the country’s armed forces.

Specifically, Kathimerini understands, attempts were made to bribe a former EYP official and army officials.

According to sources, the attempt to impose Russian influence started some time ago and also involved a collaboration with an ethnic Greek who moved to the country following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The creation of cultural groups and other activities are regarded as part of a broader attempt by Russia to broaden its influence in the region which, Moscow feared, the name deal would undermine. 

In an interview with Efimerida ton Syntakton published on Saturday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias was questioned about Moscow’s discontent over NATO’s accession invitation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. “Russia must realize that it cannot disrespect the national interests of another state because it feels it is stronger.”

“We will not tolerate such a stance from the West or from the East, and we have proven this,” he said.