ATHENS – The tit-for-tat tug o’war of diplomatic fire between Greece and Russia has escalated with Greece’s Foreign Ministry lashing out at Russian retaliation for Greece expelling two Russian diplomats and barring entry to two more.
That led to Russia booting two Greek diplomats in Moscow, a cold war developing despite Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras and Foreign Minsiter Nikos Kotzias being former Communist stalwarts.
The expulsion of Greek diplomats is “arbitrary, retaliatory and not based on any evidence,” Kotzias said in a long, rambling retort to Russian actions that came after Greece booted the Russian diplomats for allegedly trying to undermine a new name with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that opened the door for that country to get into NATO, stifling Russian interests in the Balkans.
“Greece is a peace-loving country with a multidimensional, independent democratic foreign policy. As a sovereign state with a long history, it demands respect and relations based on equality from all countries. In this context, it promotes a policy of friendly coexistence also with Russia, a great country with a strong presence on the European stage,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.
It added: ““Russia presently appears to be unable to understand Greek foreign policy’s principled positions. Since it began fighting as a comrade-in-arms with Turkey, providing it with a number of facilitations in the security sector, it appears to be steadily distancing itself from positions befitting the level of friendship and cooperation that has characterized Greek-Russian relations for the past 190 years. It appears not to understand that Greece has its own interests and criteria in international politics.
Greece’s ministry said that the decision to eject the Russian diplomats was based on evidence of interfering in the deal, reportedly including bribery attempts, to prevent FYROM being renamed North Macedonia, getting into NATO and starting European Union accession talks.
“We want to remind our Russian friends that no country in the world would tolerate attempts to a) bribe state officials, b) undermine its foreign policy, and c) interfere in its internal affairs.
“Greece took measures only after documenting tangible incriminating evidence. Moreover, Greece never interfered or attempted to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs,” the statement said.
“It is obvious that there are some Russians – fortunately few – who think they can operate in Greece without respecting laws and regulations, and even make threats. The friendship between Greece and Russia dictates that such mindsets should be abandoned, and not the other way around,” it added.
A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said the Kremlin will request explanations from the Greek embassy in Moscow over allegations that it denied visas to several Russian clerics.
Spokeswoman Maria Zacharova said her ministry will request formal explanations from the embassy, which if verified will comprise an “unacceptable action”.