Regional ripple effects of the Ukraine crisis

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Greece has sided resolutely with the West in the ongoing Ukraine crisis – not only in condemning the Russian aggression, but also joining in sanctions imposed to Russia and in aid sent to Ukraine (both of humanitarian and of military/defense character). The decision to go all the way, for a country that usually tried to take a more balanced stance when Russia was concerned, was taken by Prime Minister Mitsotakis. He rode roughshod over sensibilities within his own party, Nea Dimocratia, which in earlier times had tried to be more accommodating to Moscow – e.g. under his predecessor Kostas Karamanlis, but also under Antonis Samaras (the influence of the Orthodox Church could be traced in both cases).

Mitsotakis argued that Russia’s own revisionist approach to history in the Ukraine issue, an approach that went all the way to challenging national borders and the territorial integrity of countries by military force, was a close template to the revisionism projected by Turkey over the Aegean islands. So, Greece would be well advised to show resolute solidarity to the victim of international aggression, for fear it would have to ask for solidarity of its peers in case its own rights were contested.

The argument visibly carried some conviction, since this decision to side clearly with the position of the West was followed by most Greek parties – not an easy thing with Greece’s contentious political system. The only part of the Mitsotakis decision that was contested, was sending lethal weapons along with humanitarian aid – although the character of such weapons (superannuated Kalashnikov rifles, plus some RPGs) could not be easily termed of decisive impact to the ongoing conflict.

Interestingly enough, an opinion poll taken on this subject showed a 63% majority of those polled considering that sending to Ukraine military aid “might prove detrimental to Greece”. A 61% majority said that only humanitarian aid should have been sent.

The rather troubling part of the overall regional situation is that Turkey opted for far less engaged a position. Being part of NATO (but not of the EU), it decided not to join in sanctions to Russia; indeed, it armed the Ukrainian side with Bayraktar TB2 UAVs – which actually saw action in East Ukraine. (This was termed a commercial decision/sale, not a military assistance one). Moreover, Turkey – which in Greek public discourse is often described as isolated due to its regional aggressivity – laid claim to come sort of mediation role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. It lent at least support to the Israeli PM Naftali Bennett’s own mission of go-between, following his own trip to Moscow and lengthy discussion with President Putin. All along, N. Bennett was in touch with Ukrainian President Zelenski, before flying to Berlin to meet with Chancellor Scholz and keep pushing for disengagement talks with Kiev. N. Bennett associated Turkish leaders – who had tried the same route of mediation – to his efforts. The final (?) outcome: a meeting of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba was arranged by Turkish host to the Antalya Diplomacy Forum Mevlut Cavusoglu “We especially hope that this meeting will be a turning point” , said Cavusoglu – adding that both Ministers asked for him to join the talks…

Meanwhile, Moscow was not slow to respond to the Greek position. Following an initial salvo on part of the Russian Embassy in Athens, Maria Zakhavrova – director of Press and Information at the MFA of the Russian Federation – went on record with an unusually strong statement over the “anti-Russian information campaign in Greece [as part of] collective Western plans, to do harm to Russia at all costs”. To Zahkarova “there are calls for a complete cessation of any [Greek-Russian] cooperation”. The ending of her analysis: “Time will put everything in place; it will show who was right and who – at a critical moment – showed a lack of insight, made the wrong choice”. (This was a thinly-veiled reference to Mitsotakis’ “Greece is at the right side of History”.

To the Greek MFA, such criticism “is, unfortunately, unacceptable”. “They do not comport with diplomatic practice, or with the historical bonds connecting the Greek and Russian people”. More to the point, the statement issued by Alexandros Papaioannou – M. Zakharova’s Greek counterpart – reminded that “Greece contributes to, and is bound by, the decisions of international organisations; it takes part in (the EU and NATO)”.

A dialogue of the deaf, if there ever was one.