War may be the continuation of diplomacy by other means, but it is also the undoing of diplomacy. This is why diplomacy becomes extremely difficult at times of conflict. Furthermore, diplomats must perform the awkward task of justifying to the world every crime committed by their nation’s brass: from the leader who orders the invasion of an independent country, down to the last sergeant who murders civilians.
However, the Russian Foreign Ministry has overstepped the mark with Greece. Not only are its people trying to justify what cannot be justified; they are expressing their grievances in unusually acerbic terms. It is not just Maria Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, who said that “for the sake of vague and dubious goals, the Greek leadership is ready to nullify our own common historical heritage.”
It is also the Russian Embassy in Athens, which in a recent statement urged “high-ranking officials, politicians and state officials, deputies, party officials, ministries, the media, various parrot propagandists… to sober up.” In a different statement on Sunday, it urged Greek viewers to tune in to Open TV “if you are interested in something other than fake propaganda on Ukraine.” This sparked the rightful indignation of journalists working at the station, who said the statement was a “miserable provocation.”
So what’s wrong with Russian diplomacy? Why the bitterness, in particular over Greece? Russian diplomats clearly did not expect to see such reaction. Greeks who feel threatened by the revisionist policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have put themselves in the shoes of the Ukrainian people. Traditional pro-Putin sentiment has ebbed significantly. Only a small minority of colorful pundits still go on about “Russia’s rightful claims” and “Ukraine’s pro-Nazi leanings.”
When supporters of former US president Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in Washington DC, a respected analyst was arguing before a group of journalists that pro-Russian sentiment in Greece cannot be explained in religious terms (Bulgarians are also orthodox Christians), or theories about “the blond race.” Neither did the USSR nor the Russian Federation ever stand by Greece at a critical moment in its history. According to the same analyst, Greece was a lab where Russia tested the misinformation and propaganda techniques that it would later use on the rest of the world.
Greece, according to British historian Mark Mazower, became a laboratory for modernity. It also became a testing ground for post-modernity. This might explain the Kremlin’s annoyance. At the end of the day, Russian officials made so many investments. If these don’t pay off now, when?