by Aggelos Skordas
The continuing diplomatic row between Athens and Moscow, triggered by the expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Greece last week, appears to have created an unprecedented rift in bilateral relations. According to TUSS news agency, Russia’s Ambassador to Athens Andrei Maslov on Thursday said, the timing of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Greece scheduled for September is no longer suitable.
In his statement, Maslov says that, as an answer to Greece's decision, Russia intends to expel Greek diplomats, without however clarifying the number and date of the expulsions. “We have already informed that we will take measures against the decision. I do not know when, who and how many, but there will be retaliation as usually happens in such cases”, the Russian Ambassador to Athens states.
Addressing reporters in a press conference in Moscow on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova underlined that the expulsion of the diplomats was a result of an “organised campaign”, adding that “the fates of our countries must not be held hostage in dirty games”. “The Greek people must communicate with the Russian people and not suffer from dirty provocations”, Zakharova characteristically indicated.
On its behalf the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a strict statement condemning recent implications from Russian officials claiming that the US has applied pressure on Greece in order to proceed with the envoys’ expulsion: “Greece attempted to keep the actions of these people separate from official Russian foreign policy. But in today’s statement, the spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs embraces and seems to want to legitimise these illegal actions. The constant disrespect for Greece must stop. No one can or has the right to interfere in Greece’s domestic affairs”, the statement reads among others.
The Greek government appears discontent as the Russian diplomats allegedly tried to undermine national security, intervene in internal issues and specifically to the agreement reached between Athens and Skopje on the decades-long naming dispute, which paved the way for FYROM to join NATO. Reports also claim Russian officials 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.
Twenty Eighteen marks 190 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries that hold tight historic, cultural and economic ties, although the alleged involvement of Russian diplomats in Greece’s domestic affairs, including the agreement reached with neighbouring FYROM over the later’s name, and their subsequent expulsion as well as the entrance ban imposed on two more envoys have cast their shadow over the anniversary which would have been officially commemorated with Lavrov’s visit.