Greek Prime Minister to meet Russian President: a background

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

As the US see things, “whoever entertains friendly relations with Russia, is not with us. Such was, reportedly, the point made by U.S. President Barack Obama to then Prime Minster Kostas Karamanlis when the two met – back in April 2009 – on the sidelines of a NATO Summit in France. At that bilateral meeting the overall mood was positive, the US-Greece relations were acknowledged as being “very strong” by B. Obama, topics like the visa waiver programme or the status of the Oecumenical Patriarchate were discussed in a positive way. Still, “whoever entertains friendly relations with Russia…” One should not forget that, at that time, the right-wing, Atlanticist etc Greek Government of C. Karamanlis was trying assiduously to build closer economic relations with Moscow, especially through its energy policy of further strengthening the procurement and transit of Russian hydrocarbons, with a much-discussed project for an oil pipeline from Burgas to Alexandroupolis that was to bring further Russian crude towards European markets – plus an even higher-profile project for a natural gas connection through the South Stream. (The latter was positively greeted, among others, by the likes of Italian Prime Minister and earlier European Commission President Romano Prodi).

Such a backdrop of the triangular relations between Greece, the US and Russia should not be left out of sight when one tries to gauge the potential of the forthcoming meeting of Greek P.M. Kyriakos Mitsotakis with Russian President Vladimir Putin planned for December 8, when Mitsotakis will be visiting the Kremlin. The Greek-Russian meeting has been twice planned and aborted; the latest occurrence was when Putin was unable to attend the festivities for the Bicentenary of Greek Independence, last March). Phone contacts worked as a substitute when the decision of Turkish President Erdogan – who entertains a close relationship with Putin – to convert the Hagia Sophia monument to a mosque roiled Orthodox sensibilities. A further Mitsotakis-Putin contact took place when Moscow contributed valuable support during the wildfires of summer 2021 (notably the use of firefighting Beriev-200 Altair plane).

Since then, though, far more important issues have come to the fore. The US-Greece Agreement entered into force in October, granting the American military the right to train and operate “in an expanded capacity” at new bases throughout Greece, with the North-Eastern border port city of Alexandroupolis matching the Souda Bay naval-and-air facility in Crete. The enhanced US presence in Alexandroupolis has notably upset Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but its geo-strategic situation is of far higher importance to American/NATO planning in the evolving, post-Krimea situation at the Black Sea. Many see the Alexandroupolis outpost, along with the development of the nearby FSRU project (to welcome American LNG) and the strategic use of Corridor 9 that starts at Alexandroupolis and ends in the Baltic, as a major piece of the bulwark built by the US and NATO to counter Russian initiatives in the wider region.

So, the Mitsotakis-Putin meeting one month from now will be closely watched.