Yves here. John Helmer points out that while Greece needs all the friends it can get right now, Russia has never been a great ally of Greece. Another big complicating factor is that Russia already has important commitments to Turkey. But the biggest complicating factor is that Greece’s links to Russia are through its oligarchs, which is precisely the class that Syriza has committed to crush. For instance, Yanis Varoufakis in a pre-election interviews put cracking down on oligarchs as a top priority. Similarly, as we noted, that commitment is one of the few reforms that Syriza has proposed that predisposes the Troika towards the new government. This section from a new article in DW is typical of orthodox thinking:
Tsipras should expect little sympathy in Brussels. But it would be wrong if the EU were to respond to his unabashed demands by immediately getting confrontational, but not because Tsipras has any special leverage. The blackmail potential based on the assumption that the European Union would do almost anything to keep Greece is much smaller today than it was a few years ago. No, the reason should be the realization that there could well be common ground, precisely because Tsipras is a leftist tribune of the people and has channeled popular hatred of the two traditional political parties. Pasok and New Democracy have ruined the country with 40 years of political patronage, corruption and economic mismanagement. Tsipras’ rise is their fall. He won the election not just because of his anti-austerity program, but because he wants to put an end to the old political system.
Helmer nevertheless suggests that there could still be a workable channel for dealing with Russia.
By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears
Greece, with Cyprus, is the only member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to have suffered, and to continue to suffer, military occupation of its territory by another NATO state, Turkey, supported by the rest of the alliance. It is the only alliance member to have suffered from British and American plots to wage civil war on its territory – the British in December 1944, the Americans in April 1967. It is the only NATO state to have its seabed, and the resources which lie there, face seizure and attack by the US and Turkey. It is the only NATO state to have been (to be still) compelled by secret treaty provisions to harbour and to project nuclear and other military threats against neighbours or near-neighbours – the former Yugoslavia, Russia, Egypt, Libya, Syria – which do not threaten Greece. In short, Greece is the only country in Europe to be compelled by the force of its purported allies to act against its own national interest.
And I haven’t begun to mention the role the German friend has played – puppet king in Athens; Operation Mercury, as the catastrophic invasion of 1941 was code-named; imposition of the European Union’s (EU) Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece, destroying the Greek economy for the past five years. In the media of countries which are enemies to Greece, the election of Syriza to the Greek parliament this week, and of the government headed by Alexei Tsipras, is being reported as radical, extreme, some even claim communist.
The reply, which weak and impoverished Greece is about to make, is this: assisted suicide is not Greece’s national choice.
There will shortly be a new Greek security doctrine to identify and deter three enemies of state – Turkey, the US, and Germany – and the fourth, if it weren’t already so weak itself, Great Britain. For the secrets of this new doctrine, it won’t be useful to pore through fresh intercepts of what Tsipras, his foreign minister Nikos Kotzias, and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis are confiding among themselves, according to the NSA, GCHQ and Bundesnachrichtendienst transcripts in circulation. Instead, it’s necessary to start reading the 26 speeches Thucydides (lead image) reported in his History of the Peloponnesian War 2,400 years ago.
Thucydides has much in general, nothing particular to say about Russia. But there is a 245-year old term in Greek for the Russian ally who proves to be unreliable in war, faithless and corrupt in peace. That term is Ορλωφικά (Orlovika). For its history and application to Greece and Cyprus since 2013, read this. Russian officials who troop into Megaro Maximou, the prime ministry in Athens, to confide their congratulations and hopes for warmer relations aren’t more credible than was Count Alexei Orlov, the Empress Catherine’s emissary and naval commander in 1770.
May 13, 2014: Valentina Matvienko, Speaker of the Federation Council, told Tsipras that “Greece views Russia as a strategic partner”.
On Monday a Kremlin release quotes President Vladimir Putin as saying in a letter of congratulations to Tsipras that “he is confident that Russia and Greece will continue to develop their traditionally constructive cooperation in all areas and will work together effectively to resolve current European and global problems.”
The tradition of Russo-Greek relations is hardly constructive; most recently Putin has had much more constructive things to say about Turkey. Speaking in Moscow on December 18, he said: “As far as Cyprus in general is concerned – both Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus in the south – you know that we are trying to take a balanced approach and to bring about a solution that would suit both the northern, Turkish, and southern, Greek, parts of the island…We have very good relations with Turkey. Accordingly, this in one way or another applies to Northern Cyprus. I am not mentioning Greece, because we have a special relationship with Greece, keeping in mind our religious affinity. It’s a specific and completely local issue, but it’s very important for people. As before, we will seek a balanced solution without impositions from the outside (this is very important) in order to let people come to terms on their own…Russia and Turkey have very many – I’d like to stress this – coinciding regional interests. Moreover, a number of regional problems cannot be solved unless Turkey joins in to help address them.”
Left: Putin with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan., 2012
Right: Putin with President Erdogan, last month
Against the plots and plans of the friends who are Greece’s enemies, there is also the experience of Greek history of the 1980s (my history, too). That shows how little the friend who is the enemy of Greece’s enemy is worth when Greece’s life and death are at stake. It is already clear that Putin, on the advice of Igor Sechin, Igor Shuvalov, and many others, has cast a strategic card on Turkey. The alternative card Greece has to offer isn’t obvious, at least not to the Kremlin, and not yet.
So when the Americans, British, Germans, and Turks revive against Tsipras – as they are certain to do — the infowar and regime-change tactics used against Andreas Papandreou between 1982 and 1989, the Kremlin cannot be counted on to support Greece’s rebalancing of power. Twenty-six years ago, it was the Politburo’s conviction – spelled out in secret in February 1989 – that Papandreou was an American puppet who could not be relied upon. The Politburo was wrong about Andreas; it proved to be right about his son, George Papandreou (below), the fool and coward who has been dismissed in Sunday’s poll with a 2.7% vote — the first time in a century that no Papandreou is judged by Greek voters worthy to represent them in parliament.
The NATO script of the 1980s can already be read in the tweeting of the enemy press in London, Berlin, and Washington. Tsipras is unlikely to rely on public relations agents or on the ambassadors of his foreign ministry to fight back. More fundamental Greek tactics are being devised, including those which are still not revealed from the 1980s. It will take more than ceremonies at Greece’s cemeteries to remember the victims of German war crimes and Turkish genocide. The modern Δροσουλίτες (Droussolites) have much to remind, but not in public.
The Greek agenda for the Kremlin is already obvious – resumption of the food trade; rouble tourism; Cyprus; a new gas hub for southern Europe; NATO in Ukraine and the Balkans. For these negotiations it is also clear that Russian oligarchs and Gazprom fixers, and their Greek counterparts, who have dominated the relationship with Athens in recent years, are unacceptable to Tsipras. Officials like Sechin, Shuvalov, and the circle around Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also showed themselves in their Orlov colours during the negotiations for the Cyprus bailout loan of 2013. By Athens they can be ignored.
But if not them, with whom among the Russians can Tsipras speak? Which of them has read Thucydides? Just one – Yevgeny Primakov.
Interesting piece to build on Ian Welsh’s assertion that Greece’s best hope is to align itself with Russia and stop seeing itself as European. As Yves has pointed out, it’s clear that the Greeks and the newly elected leaders wish to remain European and it seems unlikely they’ll move out of the EU’s death vice as a result.
Helmer seems very pessimistic that alignment with Russia is even possible. Though maybe if Greece were to actually leave the Eurozone it would be more attractive to Putin to find another ally closer to Europes doorstep.
I will politely disagree that Russia’s links to Greece are only through the oligarchs.
The article doesn’t mention the historic ties between the two Orthodox nations. Way early in the mix but not as early as Thucydides – the people, many of them, have the same faith, and I would submit that there are similar antecedents for Turkey as well. An undercurrent, to be sure, but an important one that ought not to be ignored as does this article. Putin’s popularity depends greatly on his observance of his people’s traditions. Maybe the new Greek leadership would find that important.
You make a valid point. In fact, I was initially confused by this sentence from the preface:
My confusion was my fault, since the word “orthodox” is not capitalized. Still, at the risk of being considered a nit-picker, I propose replacing the word “orthodox” in this sentence with “conventional”, that is:
russia used to be by far the top export destination for greek wines. not sure whether that’s still the case now.
greece’s relations with scythia in antiquity were indeed fraught, though, the latter did find it lucrative to supply the former with slaves.
The Muscat wine of Samos, if you like it sweet.
The Economist has a short article on the history and “religious affinity” between Greece and Russia:
Although the history between Greece and Russia is muddled, “when the diplomatic stars are aligned, common cultural and spiritual reference points can give added resonance to a relationship.”
Agreed – I think the religious tie is much more important than the article gives it credit for. It does quote Putin as touching on it –
“…we have a special relationship with Greece, keeping in mind our religious affinity.”
US bombing in Bosnia back in the 90s was a more serious affair than people in the US realize. If that conflict had gotten any more out of hand it was pretty clear that Greece and Russia would both have sided with the Serbs due to their Orthodox connections. In Athens around the time of the conflict I witnessed the whole city plastered with pictures of Bill Clinton with a bullseye painted on his forehead – clearly at least some of the Greeks were exactly big fans of Bubba’s interventions, especially as refugees from the conflict flooded Greece. In the very early 90s, I saw a few old Greek widows on the streets looking for a hand but a few years after they were replaced by refugeees, some missing limbs, begging on the streets and causing a lot of crime that hadn’t existed before. Things seemed very touch and go to me at the time from listening to the Greek news – I remember Greek and Turkish planes buzzing each other at that time too. No one noticed here but they certainly did in Greece.
The Greeks also remember the civil war in their country after WWII where the allies basically backed the fascists in Greece against the Greeks who had helped them during the war, and they definitely haven’t forgotten the US backed military junta in the 70s.
Maybe Russia hasn’t been the best ally in the past, but I’d say the religious ties alone would give Greeks a larger affinity towards Russia than Uncle Sugar and NATO at this point. They’ve had enough of the US ‘helping’.
The Russians don’t want to be puppets in a bloc with China either. They have incentive to make concessions and bring micro states to the table. Since China is engaged with the U.S., I think they would prefer a Russian led group within the Shangai framework especially if it creates conditions for relations with India.
Unlike NATO, I think there is potential for an arrangement of equals which might prove attractive to many of the West’s colonial partners right now.
I’m still waiting for the Generals to play their hand. A Greek port for the Russian Navy will take a lot of the pressure off of Syria. Meaning, if an alternative to Tartus were available, it would take a lot of the neo-con hot air out of the “Syria delenda est” crowds sails. Turkey could do the same, but I figure multiple sites would be optimal.
It wouldn’t change a thing. The neoconservatives are deranged, and misfits like Obama consider being wrong as a public sign of weakness. They won’t change course until they are thoroughly humiliated.
Great read. The history between Greece and Turkey has long been one of the more potentially dramatic weak points of NATO. But with risk comes opportunity – a chance to make a more multi-polar world where rule of law for trade and diplomacy resolve matters that have been intractable for years, decades, centuries.
To me, the question for Greek citizens is not so much choosing the major power with which to align, but instead, choosing whether Greece wants to align with a major power or not. It is vassalage vs. sovereignty that is at issue.
So long as the government of Greece views bankster debt as being a legitimate liability of the people of Greece, then it will require alignment with some major power simply due to the enormity of the financial fraud being socialized.
As Welsh pointed out briefly in his essay on the same topic, Greece is dependent on outside nations for power and other goods. It is in no position to just throw off it’s debt and go it alone. They simply don’t have enough of what the rest of the world wants and need external goods like food and oil.
It is just like it was 3000 years ago when the Mycenaeans hired themselves out to the pharaohs or later when many of them migrated to become Pontic Greeks.
No argument there; it’s the strategic position of most small nations (and of all individuals). Being small is fundamentally possessing a weak hand.
We have tried many regional and global arrangements of human civilization over the years and can quibble about progress and temporary peace and so forth, but ultimately, the strong have always ruled the weak. In many ways, we don’t even know the extent of the treatment of the weak since it’s the victors who have passed down most of what we know. Yet over and over again, people have chosen to resist.
Precisely because that is nothing new, the question I’d say is what to do about it? Does one take the view that the world is a big bad scary place where you need a special relationship to keep you safe*? Or do you take the risk of trying to be more independent? Not removed from the rest of the world, but rather, participating with the world more as an equal partner and less as a subordinate.
I’m not at all meaning to suggest that life is fair or that there aren’t costs involved in such an approach or that the good guys always win at the end of the movie. I’m just pointing out that there are also costs involved in being a subordinate – costs especially visible in Greece the last few years. One set of debates is which major power is best. But underneath that is the broader premise of the authoritarian mindset that you may choose whom to serve, but you must choose someone to serve. You have no choice but to do what someone else tells you to do. There is no hope of voluntary cooperation of independent, sovereign actors. In one word, fear.
I’d counter that there is always a choice.
*And at the extremes, what is the mechanism for actually keeping you safe? That guarantee is based upon the major power itself treating you fairly.
P.S., thought you might like this from a couple weeks ago:
Just words at this point, of course. The actions are what will matter. But the point is, it’s words talking plainly and openly about these matters rather than obfuscating them. Authoritarianism and fear, opportunity and partnership, insolvency and illiquidity, pride and dignity, kleptocracy and oligopoly.
Syriza does not intend to leave the EU. Even tho’ Greece has accumulated a mountain of odious political debt since the end of WW2. And all Greece’s creditors are now trying to turn that odious politics into a monetary repayment. They’ve gotta be kidding. Greece cannot pay this almost 450 billion euros back. It is impossible. That Russia is approaching Greece is interesting because it looks like more of the consolidation of the oil industry. Because, per the link yesterday, Germany and all of northern Europe is going to be cut off from Russian oil and gas. Russia is almost impervious to their plight at this point. If Germany does an energy deal with Russia it will be because the US does not want Germany to align economically with Russia. Which seems counterintuitive. Even tho’ the industrial age is toast, Germany and Russia together could be very intimidating. So maybe we’re actually seeing both Greece and Germany playing the same cards against the US. And we, for our part, are willing to concede half the world to Russia/China, if we can still control the other half. Maybe. And the stuff today about the Saudis conferencing with Finland, Russia and Norway on the lowest possible price for oil? Maybe (I hope) we are the enemy because we are going to crush the oil industry. We will eliminate demand and finance ourselves with fiat for as long as it takes to achieve our goal, which is saving the planet from the worst consequences of global warming. That would be so cool. But such a dream.
So I suppose this means Greece is going to go the way of Ukraine in a few years? Sad really. The US/Anglo alliance has an insatiable appetite. Who will be next, Italy, Spain, France? It’s looking like the empire is going to cannibalize itself from its feet up to its head.
greece cannot go the way of ukraine as the population is very homogeneous. the people identify first and foremost as greeks, and regional identities (e.g. peloponnese, attica) don’t account for much culturally, though they do come into play in politics. divide and rule would be a difficult proposition in greece.
I think if NATO can somehow accommodate both Turkey and Greece, though they don’t get along, perhaps it’s possible for Russia to cut through this Gordian Knot.
The EU’s racism and Germany’s fear of a dynamic Turkey coming to their party has convinced Turks on the street that they to look elsewhere. If we want to talk about clashes of culture, the Rus were conducting business in Constantinople back in the 8th or 9th century. They can make an arrangement if they need to. After all, Turkey’s neighbors aren’t exactly stable and Iran.
Erdogan has made deals with Russia despite his attacks against Syria, so who knows? Erdogan strikes me as particularly irrational, but he may have been operating under the assumption Assad would be tossed quickly to be replaced by a proNATO government incapable of ruling.
If Greece needs Russia, and if closer relations with Russia entails or requires some form of rapprochement with Turkey, then I fear the worst. Watch out for the Empire’s favorite okey-doke – fund, train and even direct a local fascist constituency on the DL, while the Empire’s friends in the Anglo-Zionist-American MSM smear Syriza as “too radical to live.” The local fascists (and there are always local fascists, even if they have to be created on the fly) would have a ready-made point of departure: “The Syriza pinkos have sold out our beloved land to the dreaded Turk!” Said fascists violently overthrow the government, then do their best to physically exterminate the “undesirables,” and then more sober (technocratic even) minds prevail as the local fascists, their part played, are quietly liquidated. Your average liberal Guardian-reader will tutt-tutt over the blood, but after all Syriza was too radical to live, and, you know, Putin and stuff.
I think the scenario you bring up could happen as it has happened in Greece before. But in regards to rapprochement it is not the Greeks that have a problem with this. It is Turkey that does. No country puts any pressure on them for the wrongs they commit against others. And for Greeks this has been happening for a long time to them. The U.S doesn’t the E.U doesn’t and now neither will Russia. All oil and gas pipelines go through Turkey and all the important military bases. So Turkey gets favored against Greece regardless of what it does and Greece is **** out of luck as usual.
Helmer’s quick history of Greece’s relations with Germany should have referenced this, from a 2012 article in New Left Review by Susan Watkins. I’m surprised it doesn’t get more play. Is it because the German elites can’t stand to have the sincerity of their repentance questioned? Or, is it because it’s a lot of money?:
Hilarious. GERMANY owes GREECE huge amounts – from WWII? I love it. Hence Tsipras’s visit to that WWII memorial: he’s going to call in that debt.
World Court, anyone?
Thanks for quoting that information; I had not seen Watkins’ article before. Here is a link to the full article:
Another Turn of the Screw?
• by Susan Watkins, New Left Review 75, May-June 2012
Three things that Greece and Russian have in common…..
1. Both countries have gone through a destructive period of austerity. Russia in the 90’s, Greece 2010-present
2. Both country’s religion is Eastern Orthodox.
3. Both countries have strong anti Nazi sentiments.
They should be able to build on that.
There is a 4th point: from early 20th century the Greek Left had close ties with the USSR; after the Greek civil war there was massive immigration to the neighboring communist Bulgaria and to the Soviet Union. Even after the dissolution of the Eastern Block Russia has remained a soft spot for many a Greek (many Greeks are well educated, and progressive left ideas of social organization are widespread in society).
The relationship might be off to a rough start: ‘EU wins Greek backing to extend Russia sanctions, delays decision on new steps’.
Caveat: take a close look at the map. Russia does not need Greece to complete their Turkish pipeline’s connection to southern Europe. Turkey’s European bit connects directly with Bulgaria.
OTOH, the trade connections and the possibility of a base are real – though the latter would require Greece to leave NATO as well as the EU, and would leave them largely unprotected vs. Turkey. Probably a provocation too far – they do remember the fascist coup in the 80’s.
Once again: it’s a game of chicken, between Greece and the Eurozone. We don’t know who has more to lose, nor what the various players’ secret plans are. The Russia card serves to strengthen Greece’s hand a bit, though.
Personally, I suspect the EU will back down. Too risky to throw a country out of the Euro; it could collapse, despite their recent bluster. Because bluster it is, with a series of inconvenient elections coming.
Please bear in mind that the conflict with Turkey is to a large degree carefully stacked up and manipulated by vested interests, and that has been going on for decades. If close ties are build with Russia perhaps the Russians could broker some rapprochement with Turkey.
“stacked up and manipulated by vested interests”
The conflict with Turkey goes back to classical times; more to the point, to the loss of Ionia in the 20th C. Long memories in that part of the world.
Are you kidding?
Russia would bend over backwards to accomodate Greece just to put a sharp stick in the eye of the EU and US.
Whatever differences they may have had in the past don’t really matter.
I wonder about Helmers opening paragraph. It does not seem to be entirely founded in fact. Here please my quibbles:
“Greece, with Cyprus, is the only member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to have suffered, and to continue to suffer, military occupation of its territory by another NATO state, Turkey, supported by the rest of the alliance.”
John Helmer must be referring here to the disputes regarding the sea bed in the Aegean. It is disputed alright but to call it “under threat of seizure” is a big exageration. This dispute is dormant since the Twenties. If Helmer is though referring to Cyprus the bigger threat is definately Israel. As to the alleged role of the US I am more than dubious. Apart from being the tail wagged by the dog Israel the US is using this conflict to “divide and conquer”. Which goes against whoever happens to be in the US´s crosshairs. And that seems to be at the moment Turkey and not Greece.
My next problem:
“It is the only alliance member to have suffered from British and American plots to wage civil war on its territory – the British in December 1944, the Americans in April 1967. ”
I agree about 1944 but if you mention 1967 what about Italy (Gladio) in the seventies and Turkey after the putch in 1980?
“It is the only NATO state to have been (to be still) compelled by secret treaty provisions to harbour and to project nuclear and other military threats against neighbours or near-neighbours – the former Yugoslavia, Russia, Egypt, Libya, Syria – which do not threaten Greece. ”
Surprise, surprise. Germany is home to 41 000 US serviceman and an unknown number of atomic weapons over which the German government has no control whatsoever. I for one very much doubt that Germany is threatened by anybody. But these weapons are definately threatening Russia. The German bases are unsinkable aircraft carriers from which every war was supplied that the US waged in the Middle East. Furthermore there are secret treaties (yes, yes, yes only Gregor Gysi of the Left Party has dared to mention them time and again in public) that allow the US to access all telecommunications in Germany.
Overall I find the article by Helmer weak by his standards.Once sentimental rethoric (our Russian Orthodox brothers vs. heartless greedy Europe) has given way to cold reality a deal will be struck. The outlines are already well known. It will consist of Greece stretching repayment into the 22nd century (de facto but not de jure debt forgiveness) if and when Greece finally establishes a credible tax system that truly covers everybody. At least that is what I hope. Syriza though reinstating 9000 state employees without further ado doesn´t sound to good.
Dormant since the 20s? They nearly went to war over the island of Imia in 1996. Turkey constantly enters Greek airspace with fighter planes and territorial waters with its navy. And currently is going through Cypriot waters searching for gas. This aside from their occupation of Cyprus. Further more Turkey has threatened Greece with war if it decides to drill for oil or gas in the Aegean. It is not an exaggeration at all.
Sorry, but what you call Greek territorial waters are called Turkish territorial waters by the Turks. As to Cyprus the last I checked it was not a part of Greece and Turkey doesn´t occupy the whole island only a (disproportionally) large part. By dormant I mean that blustering and threats are never ending but the last real war was almost a hundred years ago. Greece is part of the Balkans and there you find the maddest of all mad nationalism. Just check out Trotzkis despatches from the Balkan wars. Part of the reason the Bolshewiks won the civil war was their uncompromising stance against any kind of national chauvinism. That was one of their greatest achievements and the world will have to acknowledge that one day. In that respect Syriza isn´t a left party. Way to nationalistic. No wonder they teamed up with an extreme rightwing outfit. That was to be expected.
No. what I call Greek territorial waters are what Greece’s borders are recognized by any international law, organization or treaty. It is Turkey that does not respect the territorial integrity of Greece.
My opinion or Greece’s opinion of what the Greek borders are does not violate any international law, any treaty etc. But Turkey’s does. Unless your view is that all the Greek islands and any were in the Aegean belongs to Turkey because that is their view.
I don’t know what Cyprus not been part of Greece has to do with anything I said. And if Turkey did not invade and Britain and America did not interfere in any sort of way they would of eventually voted to join. Of course Turkey and some other countries couldn’t have that. But all this is besides the point. It was Greek troops that fought against invading Turkish troops in 1974 in what was a very real war with very real deaths. And Greece and Turkey could still fight a war over it as Turkey is still officially at war with Cyprus. The same way they almost went to war in the 80s when John Helmer was an adviser to Greece and in 1996.
And some how that makes things right and ok?
If you think that the maddest of mad nationalism happens in the Balkans or only in the Balkans which is a common prejudice amongst many unfortunately. And if you think Syriza is nationalist at least in any negative way or that Independent Greeks is an extreme right wing outfit. You are very ignorant of anything in the Balkans or Greece.