Greece and the superpowers

The visit to Athens by President Vladimir Putin did not only have an economic dimension but also a political one. Putin’s congratulatory message to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday and his telephone call with best wishes to the conservative leader for his birthday demonstrate this. Putin talked of a «bilateral strategic partnership» between the two countries, echoing US President George W. Bush’s earlier statement that Greece’s is Washington’s «strategic partner» in the Balkan region. To be sure, Greece has not suddenly become the center of the world, with the two superpowers competing to win its allegiance. Nevertheless, for some reason Greek cooperation is important to both Moscow and Washington. More surprising than the niceties coming from the White House, a traditional ally of Greece, particularly after the Second World War, is the political overture from the Russian leader that was sealed with a significant energy deal. During his visit to Athens, Putin came across as an aggressive businessman with radical proposals to ensure the flow of Russian energy to Europe. At some point during his talks in Athens, Putin said that in addition to the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline project, the two countries could join hands in building a gas pipeline project connecting the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk to the Aegean via Bulgaria. The Russian president is clearly trying to reduce dependence on Turkey and consolidate alternative routes for the transfer of Russian oil and gas to Europe. Although Washington backed the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline, it will not be too keen about the prospect of a gas pipeline in the Aegean which would increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. Undaunted, Putin is set to meet with the French president and the German chancellor in Paris on September 23.