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Tsipras meets Putin: smart manœuvring or useless provocation?

, by Alexandros Apostolidis

It looks like Putin’s plan was to foster discord among Europeans, and the West has been foolishly giving him what he likes. Governments and media have overcovered the issue for no reason in a way that harms no-one but the EU. Greece indeed allowed itself to become a mere pawn of Russian chess, but all those exaggerations and the whole misinterpretation of the visit are probably the result of how interior political and cultural affairs of Greece are not carefully studied by neither journalists nor politicians.

image @independent.co.uk

It looks like Putin’s plan was to foster discord among Europeans, and the West has been foolishly giving him what he likes. Governments and media have overcovered the issue for no reason in a way that harms no-one but the EU. Greece indeed allowed itself to become a mere pawn of Russian chess, but all those exaggerations and the whole misinterpretation of the visit are probably the result of how interior political and cultural affairs of Greece are not carefully studied by neither journalists nor politicians.

First of all, this visit was either way more or less unavoidable. It was not Tsipras who asked for an open invitation to Moscow, but Putin who invited Tsipras, and Greece could never reject an invitation by such an important economic and cultural partner. In fact, it has been 1000 years since Russian monks were allowed entrance to the Holy Mountain of Athos and the two “Orthodox Brothers” are about to enthusiastically celebrate a millenium of Greco-Russian relations by the Russian Year of Greece and Greek Year of Russia in 2016 - how could the two leaders allow tense bilateral relations at the moment? Most of the statements during the common press conference and Tsipras’ lecture at the State University of Moscow focused on the cultural love affair as co-heirs of the byzantine civilisation and it could possibly be all about it and almost nothing more.

Also, one should remember that “the blond nation from the north” has been extremely popular in Greece for centuries, while most Greeks even disagreed with the EU sanctions against Russia and saw their troubled economy heavily devastated by the Russian counter-sanctions. In a period when SYRIZA is desperately trying to keep its popularity high despite the concessions made - so far successfully - such a visit should be seen as an effort to give to the Greek electorate a dynamic image of the government who maintains the pro-Russian stance it had promoted before the elections - and who also achieves to satisfy the popular pro-Russian feeling in a quite populist way.

Furthermore, this should be viewed under the general perspective of the new European Policy of the Greek government, which is actively pursuing the inclusion of geopolitics, international security and cultural affairs into European politics. Greece intends to use its geographical position and cultural status as negotiation tools during the talks with its European partners, who have steadily raised economics - Greece’s sore point - to the only domain that renders a country worthy within the EU-framework. In the same terms, Greeks, being the 3rd largest NATO contributor, promote their role as the only true pillar of stability in the troubled regions of Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. This approach could somehow be interpreted as profoundly pro-European, since it amplifies the spectrum of European politics, familiarising it with strategics, security and cultural diplomacy, which are almost unknown grounds to the EU so far.

As far as Greece’s foreign policy is concerned, Nikos Kotzias, the new minister of foreign affairs, believes that the rise of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China & South Africa) is the most decisive event taking place in international relations right now and is very keen to adopting a pro-BRICS foreign policy. The University of Piraeus, where he teaches, has even launched a new Master’s programme and a Research Centre for those countries. With this visit Greece demonstrated its pro-BRICS intentions not only to Russia, but mostly to China, who’s the principal ally that Greece would like to approach. So, all current trends should be regarded as parts of the wider plan for a diversified and reinforced Greek foreign policy, as described in Kotzias’ books. More than results, this visit brought messages delivered to the EU, to China and even to the USA, who have not actively condemned Turkey’s aggressiveness against Greece and Cyprus.

Either way, Greece did gain quite a lot from this visit - far less than what populists and euroscepticists expected, but still significant. Agreements on tourism and cultural exchanges are being arranged, a plan of investments will try to bring Greco-Russian trade back to its usual high numbers, and intentions for broader cooperation on Energy have been reaffirmed. Also, Russians stated that, once the crisis in Ukraine is over, Greece will be the first Western country to be reapproached and seemed to place Greece as the mediator between Russia and the Balkans. So, Greece upgraded its diplomatic position and got a small push to its economy. In the same terms, the “cradle of Western civilization” wanted to show that the West is not its only alternative and, indeed, the European Central Bank already made for the first time concessions to some Greek demands. The actual Greece-EU situation strangely looks like the relationships where we take our partners for granted, until we see someone else flirting with them, and then we try to keep them closer to us.

However, such a diplomatic and cultural exhibitionism could have a rather negative impact on Greece, apart from all the negative news that already saw the light in a bad timing. It would be no surprise if EU-members and European institutions adopted collectively a stricter stance towards Greece, in order to demonstrate how they can be neither impressed nor blackmailed by such moves. Nevertheless, the real question is “will Greece continue to tolerate being the only one who’s constantly blackmailed?”

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