The "tango" of Greek-Russian relations: Lavrov's visit to Athens in late October

Russian FM Lavrov. Dendias

The Russian Foreign Minister is expected to vist Athens at the end of this month. What is expected to be discussed. How did we get here?

According to diplomatic sources, the visit of the head of the Russian diplomacy to Greece is scheduled for the end of October. The visit seems to be in the final stages of preparation, while the exact date and schedule are in the process of being configured.

There are two reasons that allegedly determine the context of the visit of Lavrov to Greece.

The time seems to coincide with Lavrov doing a broader tour of the Balkans, but also with the holding of the Council of Europe, organized by Greece as the presiding country and in which Russia regained the right to vote in 2019.

As everything shows, the Russian Foreign Minister will hold meetings with both his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, and with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkey's role are expected to be discussed.

Greek diplomats are wondering if the Russian Foreign Minister will raise the issue of mediation between Greece and Turkey.

Other circles estimate that there will be assurances from the Russian side that the Russian-Turkish cooperation does not affect the Greek-Russian relations and dialogue with Greece.

The issue of Turkish provocation has been raised from time to time by Lavrov, with him even giving exact numbers of Turkish violations in Greek airspace. For example in 2015 it had reported 1,800 violations.

The realization of a new special year may be on the table, between the two countries as from 2016 onwards they are milestones in the relations between the two countries.

"From the point of view of Russian diplomacy, Lavrov, an experienced diplomat, will seek to detect any possibility of deepening cooperation at all levels. Whether someone agrees or disagrees with him, he is still very capable," Dimitris Patelis, an associate professor of philosophy at the Technical University of Crete who holds a doctorate in philosophy from Lomonosov University in Moscow.

"The issue is what the Greek side seeks. With the emphasis on multilateral diplomacy, our country is probably trying to cover up the fact that it has become an arm of the regime imposed by the Americans in Greece," Patelis, who is also a member of the International Research Group, said.

There are many diplomats who have characterized Greek-Russian relations as a tango with steps going forward, but also backwards.

greece russia Nikos Dendias Sergey Sergei Lavrov
Greek FM Nikos Dendias meeting his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Athens - October 26, 2020.

"In relations with NATO, we strongly appreciate that Greece does not agree with the policy of sanctions and wants further dialogue in relation to the Ukrainian ones," the Russian Foreign Minister commented on his recent visit to Greece.

It was 2016 under the SYRIZA government, and this statement was made by Sergei Lavrov after the meeting with his then counterpart Nikos Kotzias.

"The previous government, which is supposed to promote cooperation with Russia, cut off bridges, imposed sanctions on the Russians in Ukraine and Crimea, expelled diplomats, became an absolute stronghold of the Americans and ceded national sovereignty. The current government continues the same policy smoothly without the slightest differentiation. Diplomatic relations between Greece and Russia have been marked by several incidents," Patelis points out.

Many do not remember that at the end of 2017 the visit of the then Deputy Foreign Minister George Katrougalos to Moscow and the scheduled meeting of the Interministerial Cooperation Committee with Russia were canceled.

According to people who knew the diplomatic background of the time, the Greek side allegedly vetoed the presence of representatives from the Crimea in the Russian delegation. The reaction of the Russian side was expected, adding that as a host it would not accept the instructions of the guests for the attendees.

Lavrov's last scheduled visit to Athens was to take place in September 2018. However, the Russian Foreign Minister's visit was postponed after a diplomatic thriller.

Kotzias had expelled Russian diplomats for "illegal actions within Greek territory," without providing evidence.

In a series of exchanges of statements and denials, Moscow categorically denied that there was any "threat" Lavrov to Kotzias about the Prespa Agreement and described it as a "dirty game of pressure."

"We fully understand that the pressure, which was exerted in Greece, was very strong. Unfortunately we are talking about politics, such things do not go unnoticed, they do not disappear without a trace, unfortunately of course all this tarnishes bilateral relations, without contributing any positive starting point," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova at the time.

Despite the diplomatic crisis, Lavrov did not fail to honor the establishment of 190 years of diplomatic relations between Greece and Russia in the fall of 2018, making an important reference to the late Manolis Glezos:

"During the hard years of World War II, our countries fought as allies against the Nazis. Our country has always praised the role played by the fighters of the Greek resistance movement in achieving victory. We will always remember and will never forget the act of Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas, who lowered Hitler's flag from the Acropolis. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to our Greek friends for preserving the memory of the Russian and Soviet soldiers who have been buried in Greece," he said.

In December 2018, the then Foreign Minister George Katrougalos, speaking to Sputnik, had spoken of a "passing cloud" in the "traditionally good relations between Greece and Russia" when commenting on the expulsion of Russian diplomats.

He and his staff carefully organized the visit of then-Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Moscow and his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to "warm up".

The relations between Greece and Russia remain stagnant because of the growing American influence Greecem, such as the Agreement for Mutual Defense Cooperation, recognizing Juan Guaidó as transitional president of Venezuela, recognizing autocephalous Ukrainian Church, etc.

It is worth noting that the last meeting of the Greek-Russian Foreign Ministers took place with the visit of Dendias to Moscow in November 2019.

Given the differences between Athens and Moscow, the two phone calls between Dendias and Lavrov in less than six days seem to create moderate optimism among supporters of Greek-Russian relations.

The views expressed by the author Lambros Zacharis do not necessarily reflect those of Greek City Times.