ATHENS – While Greece tried to pretend everything was normal, ties with Russia have become breakingly tense after two Russian diplomats were expelled with reports saying it was because they were trying to undermine a deal renaming the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and opening the door for that country to get into NATO.
Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, spokesman for the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA coalition that includes the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos told SKAI TV that Greece“cannot tolerate behavior that violates international law and does not show respect to the Greek state.”
He added that, “It is our assessment that there has been such behavior, and for that reason all necessary measures will be taken,” without explicitly confirming the expulsions that had been reported by Kathimerini.
The sense was that Greece was upset with the alleged actions of the diplomats and not the Russian Embassy without indicating how that could be as they work for their country’s mission.
“Greece has proven that, in the context of a multifaceted foreign policy, it wants good relations with all states,” Tzanakopoulos told SKAI, adding that “all states must respect international law as well as the Greek government and the Greek state.”
Other diplomats not named by the paper said that Greek authorities had long warned Moscow about the behavior of the Russian diplomats and wanted to send a message with the expulsions that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, a former Communist Youth leader is serious, even though he had sought closer links with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The paper said that the diplomats are alleged to have sought to expand Russia’s influence in Greece, via local authorities and Bishops across the country, and through organizations with close links to Moscow, including the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society.
Also that the diplomats tried to bribe Greek officials and undercut Tsipras’ deal allowing FYROM to be called North Macedonia, keeping the name of an ancient Greek province – in a deal which has already seen FYROM being invited to join NATO.
The agreement was brokered by United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who failed for two decades to find a solution only to find it settled with a name he had recommended years ago and with speculation it was done under pressure from the US to get FYROM into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans.