ΑΤΗΕΝS – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will cost Greece a key tourism market in Russian tourists with European Union sanctions blocking airlines from that country, but there is also worry that Turkey has become emboldened.
Despite historically close ties with Russia, another Orthodox nation, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis quickly got on board with the EU penalties although Russia supplies some 40 percent of energy to the bloc, including Greece.
The sanctions, however, exempted two major Russia banks dealing with the oil and gas revenues to allow business to go on as usual while the EU could claim it was getting tougher on Russia.
In a feature, The Irish Times noted the double dilemma for Greece and Mitsotakis, who is also dealing with the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and tying to accelerate an economic recovery while being sniped at by the major opposition SYRIZA.
Before the pandemic early in 2020, Greece was on a consecutive record run of boom year for tourism, and in 2019 there were about 600,000 Russians who came, spending more than 400 million euros ($433 million) the report added.
Greece hoped to have half that many Russians coming this year and was anticipating a rebound from the lockdown years before the invasion also rattled world markets and drove up fuel prices, which could limit travelers coming.
Locked out of the EU, including their favorite destination – Cyprus – it appears the Russian will go to Greece’s tourist rival Turkey, as well as Egypt, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and fellow Communist country Vietnam.
While Greece will take a hit in the pocketbook there are are feared political repercussions as well, including that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seeing Russian President Vladimir Putin take what he wants, might make a move on Greek islands.
Erdogan has openly coveted return of Greek territory ceded away under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he doesn’t recognize unless invoking to his advantage and doesn’t recognize Cyprus, a member of the EU which has suspended Turkey’s bid that began in 2005.
Erdogan wants the Lausanne pact and the 1947 Paris Treaty revoked because it gave away eastern Aegean islands, some within sight of Turkey’s coast and he said that Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Icaris, Lemnos and Samothrace are part of Turkey under its self-declared Blue Homeland doctrine.
There are financial reasons too.
The islands are in an area of the Aegean that could sit on vast gas and oil reserves that the report noted are important to Turkey as its economy is crumbling and inflation has passed 50 percent, risking Erdogan’s popularity.
“Given that Turkey’s 1974 illegal invasion of northern Cyprus has never been challenged, and continues to this day in the self-styled ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,’ the anxiety of the Greek government about a Turkish invasion of its islands, inspired by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, is not unreasonable, Richard Pine wrote for the paper.
With ethnic Greeks among Ukrainian refugees coming to Greece, the report noted that many could be offered jobs in the tourism sector which at its height employed nearly a million workers.
There are big Russian investments in Greece real estate too as well as in tourism and the effect of losses in that area can’t be determined as long as the invasion persists and whether more sanctions are coming from the EU.