A significant political message

Although yesterday’s visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Athens was extremely brief, it clearly has some economic significance as it is connected with the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline, which is destined to carry Russian oil to the markets of Western Europe, and carries a political message which is extremely significant. A year ago, Putin’s visit to the monastic community of Mount Athos had been broadcast live by Russian television channels. The domestic reasons dictating that the Russian leader be seen praying at Mount Athos were self-explanatory. Modern Russia is exploiting Orthodoxy in order to consolidate the influence of its leaders on its people and to promote national goals on an international level. This is a well-established practice with its roots in tradition. Putin’s Russia is a global power – albeit not of the stature of the USA – which has completely assimilated the conditions of modern political behavior. The Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline project is of limited economic significance for Greece as it is linked to the transport of only around 30 million tons of oil per year. The matter could have been handled by a middle-ranking political official. But the Russian president preferred to come to Athens, using Greece as a platform to make it clear that his country is Europe’s key energy partner. Putin met with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to discuss the pipeline and a possible natural gas pipeline running through Turkey and Greece before culminating in Italy. But the real significance of Putin’s stopover in Athens is that it gives the impression that he regards Greece as a nation of some stature and not just a small player. It is a political move. It is not at all difficult to decipher the policy of Russia, which has come back onto the European scene to cooperate on the economic level, without any ideological hang-ups. And Moscow’s tendency to «neutrality» in its relations with other countries has made it more acceptable in European public opinion.