Greece expels two Russian diplomats, Moscow says will respond accordingly

by Aggelos Skordas

Greece’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has ordered two Russian diplomats to leave the country and banned the entry to another two due to their alleged interference and illegal activities related to the row with neighbouring FYROM over the later’s name and undermining the national security of Greece, government sources said on Wednesday. On its behalf, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that it will respond accordingly.

“Greece, in the framework of its multidimensional policy, has demonstrated that it wants good relations with all states, but all states must respect international law. The Greek government insists that it is impossible to accept behaviors that do not show respect towards Greek authorities”, government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said in an interview with Skai TV. Questioned to confirm whether there has been action towards that direction, Tzanakopoulos said that there have been “such behaviors”, thus “necessary measures have been taken”. The government spokesperson did not reveal the nature of the “measures” and avoided to confirm the envoys expulsion.

“We had issued warnings to Russian authorities for some time over [the actions of] these specific four diplomats and civilians, and on Friday it was officially raised, giving them a reasonable period of a few days to leave the country”, unnamed Greek diplomatic sources told Reuters.

According to local media reports, the Greek government appears discontent as the Russian diplomats allegedly tried to intervene in internal issues and particularly to undermine the agreement reached between Athens and Skopje on the decades-long naming dispute. Moreover, the two attempted to prejudice local authorities in order to launch rallies against the deal and also tried to bribe state officials and high-rank members of the Greek Orthodox clergy in order to increase Russian influence in Mount Athos monastic community. Public broadcaster ERT reported that the diplomats were caught “red handed”.

Moscow always takes tit-for-tat measures in response to diplomat expulsions, an official at the Russian Foreign Ministry told reporters, commenting on media reports about the expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Greece: “The expulsion of diplomats always leads to tit-for-tat measures”, the unidentified official was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Tass. That means Russia would mirror the move by expelling at least two Greek diplomats.

The Greek government, though, insists that Athens maintains channels of communication with Moscow, highlighting that the country was not among those which in March proceeded to the massive expulsion of Russian diplomats in the aftermath of the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, Britain. Then, London and Brussels accused Moscow of the attack and some 25 countries asked Russian envoys to leave immediately.

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