Karamanlis takes a step back

Two years have passed since Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and then Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans for the construction of the South Stream pipeline to supply Russian natural gas to Bulgaria, Greece and Italy. Since Barack Obama’s election, Washington has continued to oppose the strategic energy relationship between Europe and Russia, arguing that Europe risks becoming dependant on Russia in terms of energy and politics. In reality, Europe needs Russian energy and Russia needs European technology, products and services. Athens’s policy toward Moscow is affected by two differing attitudes. The first is «inspired» by US policy and treats Russia as a rival to the West. The second sees bilateral relations via the prism of Greek interests, without, of course, violating the country’s obligations to its allies. Karamanlis has appeared to lean toward the second attitude. This and his good personal relationship with Putin gave him an advantage in talks with Moscow. The last few months, however, Karamanlis has been backing down. It is not clear whether this is because he got scared or he was persuaded that to forge close ties with the Obama administration he would have to weaken ties with Moscow. The only thing that’s certain is that the foreign minister and a significant section of the diplomatic elite never looked favorably on the Greek-Russian flirtation and strategic energy relationship. As Obama’s visit to Turkey showed, Athens should not expect anything from the new president. On almost all national issues, American positions remain neutral or negative toward Greek interests. Moscow, on the other hand, usually supports Greek positions or maintains a benevolent neutrality. But it is not just this: Given that the Turkey-Greece-Italy pipeline already exists, without South Stream, Turkey becomes a transit center and Greece will be dependent on Ankara. In a crisis, the supply may stop. This might not interest the USA, but it ought to concern Athens.

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