Before a compromise was reached to extend sanctions on Russia for its support of separatists in Ukraine – but no new measures as demanded by Greece’s new government – there was wariness in the European Union that the Radical Leftist SYRIZA Administration of new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras would be looking more toward Moscow than Brussels.
That may already be true, after reports that Greece would be anxious to get aid from Russia as Tsipras readies for a confrontation with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Union (EU-IMF-ECB), vowing to redo the austerity terms that came with two bailouts of 240 billion euros ($272 billlion) or walk away from at least half the debt.
That stance has unsettled the international lenders and the Eurozone but now EU officials have another worry with Tsipras, a former Communist Youth member whose heroes are the likes of Che Guevara and who at one point said he wanted to take Greece out of NATO.
He appointed Communist sympathizer Nikos Kotzias, an international relations professor as his Foreign Minister, who immediately said he favored Russia in is battle with the EU over the sanctions – Russia is a key energy supplier and trade partner of Greece.
In an analysis of the links between SYRIZA and Moscow – Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first to send a congratulatory telegram to Tsipras, 40, who unseated New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras – the Financial Times noted that after the Leftist victory that, “It was not finance officials who were rattled but Europe’s defense and security chiefs.”
Tsipras immediately objected to calls for further sanctions against Russia despite evidence Moscow was supporting more violence in Ukraine amid charges by critics that Putin has greater designs on the country.
“We are against the embargo that has been imposed against Russia,” said Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis. “We have no differences with Russia and the Russian people.”
That sent European Parliament President Martin Schulz, a Socialist, scurrying to Athens to meet with Tsipras and bring a demand that Greece fall in line behind the EU.
Tsipras didn’t, with Kotzias forcing the compromise that let both sides claim a victory of sorts, but the message had been sent that it’s not business as usual as it was with Samaras, who did the Troika bidding.
Despite Russia hurting over the sanctions and the falling price of oil, there remains fear in Brussels that it Putin wants a greater hold in Southeast Europe and now has an natural ally in Tsipras.
The Financial Times said that EU and NATO officials are now poring over links between the Kremlin and senior figures from SYRIZA and its coalition partner, far right-wing nationalists, the Independent Greeks party.
Indeed, the first foreign official Tsipras met at Maximos Mansion in Athens was Russian Ambassador Andrey Maslov, raising more eyebrows and scrutiny in Brussels about SYRIZA, a motley collection of Communists, anarchists, Stalinists, Maoists, Leninists and Trotskyites.
Tsipras had made no secret that he favors Russia over Ukraine, whom he accused of harboring “neo-Nazi elements” as he denounced the sanctions during a trip to Moscow.
“It’s a regression for us to see fascism and the neo Nazis entering European governments again and for this to be accepted by the EU,” Tsipras said at the time. “The EU is shooting itself in the foot with this strategy,” he said at that time.
Kotzias and Independent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos, who’s in the coalition with a marginal party only because SYRIZA fell two seats short of a majority in Parliament, both are close to Moscow in their thinking – and Kammenos was made Defense Minister.
ATHENS TURNS HARD LEFT
The FT said that Kotzias has a relationship with Alexander Dugin, the Russian nationalist philosopher, and met him during several visits to Moscow, according to a colleague who declined to be identified.
Dugin, who is close to several figures in the Moscow security establishment and last August called for a “genocide” of Ukrainians, was invited by Kotzias to speak at an event in the Piraeus campus in 2013, where he extolled the role of Orthodox Christianity in uniting Greeks and Russians.
Kammenos has also been a frequent visitor to Moscow. A picture shows him in the Russian capital recently, meeting the Chairman of the Russian Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee and the Deputy Chairman of its Defence Committee.
Russian billionaire Konstantin Malofeyev, a sometime ally of Dugin, and another pro-Kremlin figure who has developed close ties with radical European political movements, said he also knew Kammenos, the FT said.
Malofeyev is subject to EU and US travel bans and wanted by Kiev for allegedly financing pro-Russia separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
“I used to travel to Athens often — before the sanctions,” he told the Financial Times. He said Greece has lived “under a long enslavement by the Troika,” words echoing almost exactly the feelings of Tsipras.
“It is in the interests of Greeks for relations with Russia to normalize . . . For the Greek economy, for the Greek people, friendship with Russia is necessary,” he added.
Anton Shekhovtsov, a Vienna-based analyst of Europe’s radical political movements, has studied links between Russia and populist parties such as SYRIZA and told the newspaper that “Russia will certainly be looking to capitalize on the win of SYRIZA and pro-Kremlin sentiments that are fairly widespread in Greek society but especially in these parties,” he said.
He said that the likes of Dugin have been active in cultivating friends for Moscow with radical populist European movements.
“The Greek case is perhaps the most dangerous in terms of its potential implications for the EU and sanctions policy. There is also the issue of NATO’s information security,” he said.