OPINION

Greece, Russia and the USA

The clash between Georgia and Russia, and the complete inability of the United States and international organizations to influence the outcome, is convincing proof that the world is in a new phase where the mechanisms that once maintained balance are outdated. The United Nations has been unable to impose anything on its members as long as they are members of the Security Council or allied to countries that are. Greece is now facing great new challenges. Some of them are specific to Greece, others involve all the world’s countries. In the latter case is the significant fact that the United Nations is now weakened even further. This decline began when the United States stopped striving for the necessary unanimity on the Security Council for military intervention and introduced the concept of «the coalition of the willing.» The US involvement in Iraq has led directly to the developments of recent days: Following America’s example, other countries, such as a resurgent Russia, understand that they too can act unilaterally; Georgia, as a «willing member» of George W. Bush’s coalition, felt that it had US protection and that it could provoke its ill-tempered neighbor with impunity, with disastrous consequences; the weakening of the United States by its having to wage two wars opened the way for Russia’s overwhelming reaction against Georgia, in the knowledge that Washington can do nothing substantial to stop it, neither on a bilateral level nor in the Security Council, other than express condemnation. It is most unfortunate that the UN’s decline finds the European Union at an impasse, without a single voice on the international scene. The Lisbon Treaty, which Ireland’s voters torpedoed a few months ago, would have established a powerful «foreign minister» who could claim to speak for a bloc of 500 million people. Now each country will have to chart its own course, within the EU and separately. As we have seen in the energy sector, each country will seek its own accommodation with Moscow. This is where Greece’s greatest challenge lies. It finds itself in a new world, with new power relationships, at a time that serious regional issues remain unsolved. These include the Cyprus problem, the Macedonia issue and Kosovo. Now Athens has to negotiate these tricky issues while establishing a new balance in its relations with Washington and Moscow as the two powers vie for influence in our region. Despite the fact that the United States is Greece’s most important ally, in recent years Washington has appeared to take particular pleasure in siding with Skopje on the Macedonia issue, trampling on Athens’s sensitivities. This unswerving support has enabled the leadership in Skopje to keep provoking Athens with actions and statements that do nothing to solve the problem between the two countries. Although Greece has drawn closer to Russia, signing politically significant agreements on the purchase of natural gas and the construction of pipelines, relations with the United States were unshaken – until Athens vetoed the «Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s» accession to NATO a few months ago. Indicative of how complicated this issue has become is a comment by an American analyst in the International Herald Tribune last Tuesday. Edward P. Joseph, of the Center for Transatlantic Relations of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, declared that «inviting Macedonia to join NATO is one readily available way to counter Moscow’s dangerous perception of impunity for its actions in Georgia.» However laughable and reckless this may appear to anyone with knowledge of our region and a serious interest in its future, it shows just how much developments in South Ossetia affect us. If Washington does indeed push for our neighbor’s NATO accession without a deal with Athens, it will automatically position Greece, with its persistent stand on the issue, in Moscow’s corner (notwithstanding that Russia was among the first countries to recognize «Macedonia»). The same can be said for the Kosovo issue, where Greece is among the few EU members who have not recognized the Serb province’s unilateral declaration of independence. This again puts Athens on the side of Moscow on an issue that Washington considers crucial to its policy and prestige in the region. A strong Russia, which has already shown great interest in winning over Greece, could try to make itself useful to Athens’s diplomacy. But it is difficult and dangerous for Athens to overturn a foreign policy of decades and openly side with Moscow in its rivalry with Washington. If the United States, however, ignores Greece’s concerns, it will be its fault if, by default, it finds Athens moving closer to Moscow. The best way to avoid the unnecessary destruction of very old bonds is for Washington to give Athens the support that it has withheld over the past years, in recognition of the fact that the surest investment in the region is to stand by a tested ally who has repeatedly shown that it can play a stabilizing role in the region. Washington will determine how the three-way relationship between the United States, Russia and Greece will develop – as a continuation of a strong Greek-US partnership or as a test of wills and influence with unpredictable results.