GREECE AND RUSSIA:Dancing to the tunes of Bouzouki or Balalaika?

Many wonder about the aims of the recent Greek – Russian rapprochement. Expressed mainly on issues of energy (oil and gas) Greece and Russia have come quite close in sharing head of state visits and mutual concerns about regional developments.

There is an old tendency in Greece, strongly instilled in cultural traits, to view the east as the spiritual basis of its existence. It is not the left but the very conservative right that traditionally regarded the west with concern and suspicion. Not having undergone the experience of the enlightenment, the Greek nation has been left with the fundamental values of the medieval Christian orthodoxy dominating its psyche and world view.

Greek cultural and emotional attachment to the east was violently ruptured during the post – second world war civil strife. The communist party associated closely with its soviet counterpart frightened conservative and commerce oriented Greeks who joined the west. Ever since that time Greece became a loyal ally of the USA and a founding member of NATO. The fear of communist infiltration and possible subversion influence Greece to diverge from its cultural heritage and turn its interest and focus towards the West.

The collapse of the Soviet Union gradually diminished those long standing fears and a new era appeared to rise. The Greek church felt immediately the proximity with Moscow and on the occasion of a feud with the Patriarchate in Istanbul appeared reaching to the Russian church for support and cooperation. With the demise of the former Greek Archbishop Christodoulos this rapprochement did not continue. Opening to the east however became again part of cultural and religious zeal.

When Russia took the initiative to offer Greece a helping hand on various energy projects a jubilant nation reacted with enthusiasm to the novel prospect. Pundits, politicians and community leaders considered the Russian gesture as support for political ends. These initiatives coincided with difficulties that the Greek foreign policy was facing on various fronts – Cyprus solution, Tyrkey’s negotiations to the EU, recognition of the FYROM. Thus, for many in Athens the Kremlin was looked upon as a substitute to reserved – towards Greek pursuits – western attitudes.

Faced with this climate of outright enthusiasm many western observers even considered the possibility that there may be Greek politicians with possibly a secret pro – Moscow agenda. Taking a cooler view at events however it is quite obvious that Greek reactions are obviously exaggerated and that Moscow aims mainly at specific business advantages.

As the leader of the Slavic world and with close ties to the Erdogan government in Ankara it would be extremely difficult for Russia to appear as championing Greek national pursuits. Likewise, the relationship has been construed as a result mainly of Russian energy initiatives rather than as a product of Greek foreign policy plans. Athens was driven to the relationship by simply reacting, almost dazzled, to the mostly unexpected Russian overtures. Which of course flattered its national ego and carried important geo-economic advantages. But it is Moscow that plays the tune pursuing its own economic ends.

By bringing Greece (after Germany, Hungary and Italy) within its well designed energy web Moscow persuades its gas providers in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan that it has enough customers to fulfill its dues and that they should agree to allow their product to be carried through Gazprom’s pipelines. Faced with difficulties in producing adequate for its export obligations gas Russia needs badly the gas of Central Asia. On the oil level, Russia managed to guarantee for its own company Transneft the control of the Burghas – Alexandroupolis pipeline, although she is not able to fill it with Russian oil. At the same time, as a byproduct, Russia can use this new pipeline as an alternative route in case Belarus or Lithuania continue to raise issues and pose obstacles to the Druzhba oil route to Europe. And also manages to appear, in the eyes of the west, as a powerful broker able to further its interests in Europe no matter what the reactions of Brussels or some of the new EU members are.

The Russophobic paranoia however that permeates the pages of certain analyses of Kremlin’s political aims, do not stand up to serious scrutiny. For the simple fact that Russian energy cannot be employed as a tool of extortion and b;ackmail towards the west. For the simple reason that Moscow needs desperately the remittances its energy exports accrue. There can be some flag waving and extremely short term diplomatic dancing. But there can never occur a serious threat to European energy security.

In all, as far as Greek – Russian relations are concerned, it is obvious that the shots are called by the Kremlin and Athens simply reacted to Moscow’s initiatives. There are no deeply thought plans neither is there a far reaching political strategy. The jingles of the balalaika are much stronger than the tunes of the bouzouki playing a syrtaki dance.