While the news of Brexit has overwhelmed the headlines, Greece and Russia have taken bold steps to strengthen their relationship with little notice.
Historical ties between Russia and Greece date back a millennium. Unlike the Catholic church which held its liturgies in Latin, the Orthodox churches believed that the word of the Lord should be expressed in the vernacular of the people. To further the spread of Christianity, St. Cyril created an alphabet based on the Greek alphabet which provides the medium of written expression in Russian to this day. Vladimir Putin issued a statement in advance of his visit to Greece where he referred to the historical bonds between these nations.
“The celebrations of the Millennium of Russian Monasticism on the Holy Mount Athos will be a landmark event this year. Throughout completely different periods of history, their moral courage, faith and patriotism helped our peoples to overcome severe ordeals and preserve their identity.”(1)
During Putin’s visit to Greece the Greek and Russian government signed several Memoranda of Understanding to promote cooperation in the areas of cultural exchanges, academic and scientific cooperation, and to strengthen ties in investment and trade.
“The following documents were signed in the presence of the President of Russia and the Prime Minister of Greece: a Joint Declaration of the Government of Russia and the Government of Greece on Partnership for Modernisation; a Memorandum of Understanding on Inter-regional Cooperation Between the Russian Economic Development Ministry and the Greek Foreign Ministry; and a Roadmap on Broadening Russian-Greek Cooperation in Agriculture.
The relevant agencies signed a Joint Action Programme in Tourism for 2016–2018, memoranda of understanding on cooperation in standardisation, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, investment and trade. An Agreement on the Main Parameters of Oil and Petroleum Products Supply and a Memorandum of Understanding Between the Ural Federal University and the University of Piraeus regarding BRICS projects were signed as well.” (2)
So what does this all mean? Firstly, these agreements have solidified economic cooperation which will help Greece’s energy security, provide more markets for its agricultural products, which Russia sorely needs, and give Russia a means to continue to be a main supplier of oil and gas to Europe. A new pipeline deal is already underway, as reported by the Wall Street Journal(3) .
Secondly, this could be considered a poke in the eye of NATO. Having expanded the number of member countries to encircle Russia since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, NATO has been working overtime to reignite old Cold War tensions by complaining of Russian aggression and demonizing Putin. The wanton actions of NATO have created a refugee crisis causing millions to flee for their lives. The war on Libya has benefited the oil interests of powerful NATO countries, but left a disproportionate burden on the shoulders of Greece who is left to rescue thousands of desperate Libyans from the sea every week. By opening new relations with Russia, the Greek government sends a message to the other member states that she would prefer to de-escalate tensions. As Prime Minister Tsipras expressed in the joint conference,
“We believe, as the declaration states, that reaching a new, higher level of dialogue can help promote the relations between the European Union and Russia, as well as between NATO and Russia, during this difficult period, and strengthen the European security architecture under the OSCE.”(4)
Lastly, the economic cooperation between Greece and Russia could provide a future path for Greece to throw off the yoke of debt to the European Central Bank and the IMF. Conceivably, the recently formed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank(5) could pay off Greece’s debt, or a substantial portion thereof, to the Troika, and offer terms that would actually enable the Greek economy to recover and prosper rather than condemning the nation to austerity and selling public assets at fire-sale prices.
Clearly, Russia providing a mechanism for Greece to extricate herself from the barbarous conditions of austerity imposed by ECB is purely speculative. Nonetheless, as pain of the new loan conditions continue to grow in Greece, and as NATO continues its policy of expansionist neo-colonial wars while continuing to encircle Russia and China, greater cooperation between Greece and Russia will look more alluring to both parties over time.
Mark B. Baldwin, has a Masters degree in Russian Language and Literature. He worked for thirteen years doing trade between the US and Russia, and promoted trade relations between Russia and the US as a member of the Foundation for Russian-American Economic Cooperation. He now works as a programmer and a rugby coach. His views are his own.