OPINION

Greece and Russia

Despite the fact that the economic dimension of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Athens overshadowed the political one, the latter still retains considerable weight even if the visit yielded no striking outcome. Greek-Russian relations are not typical of relations between a Western European country and Moscow. A particularity exists for both sides which is not only confined to their common religion and their historical origins. It is also based on existing geopolitical facts. Greece has for decades been an organic part of the Euro-Atlantic structure. However, geographically it belongs to the Balkans and for decades it has faced a national security problem which forced it to map out policies that transcended the single-minded Cold War context. It is no coincidence that without downgrading Greece’s commitment to the Western camp, Giorgos Papandreou in the 1960s, Constantine Karamanlis in the 1970s and Andreas Papandreou in the 1980s each tried to improve political ties with Russia and the other Eastern bloc countries. Their aim was partly to broaden the horizons of Greece’s foreign policy, but primarily to offset Turkish pressures. Today, things are very different. The collapse of the Soviet Union has presented Russia with many acute problems. Its leverage in the international arena is not what it was, yet it continues to play an important role, as it not only remains a nuclear superpower but also a vast country rich in raw materials. Contrary to some Western circles that have tried to keep Russia sidelined and isolated, Athens has always backed – to the extent possible – the political reinforcement of Russia so that it could recover from its social and economic problems and play a greater international role. And this is because it regarded such a development as stabilizing for the international system and our region in particular. The rapprochement between the US and Russia after the events of September 11 has vindicated this policy. Moscow has displayed a special interest in Athens, for it acknowledges that Greece has played a constructive role within the Western framework. Greece, of course, cannot determine NATO’s and the EU’s policy line, but the way in which it has approached the problems of the broader area tends to be closer to the realities and the sensitivities of its peoples rather than the perspective of the other Western states. Simitis noted Russia’s closer ties with NATO and the EU. «There can be no thought of a common foreign policy by the EU without direct contact, cooperation and agreement with Russia,» he said.