Relations between Russia and Greece appeared to have reached unprecedented heights after President Vladimir Putin met with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Sochi in December last year and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Moscow on February 18.
However, the war in Ukraine quickly reversed all advancements made.
The ruling New Democracy government immediately condemned what they recognized as an invasion and hastily made the decision to send weapons – something that has proven to be immensely unpopular with Greek citizens, especially as they can end up in the hands of the Azov Battalion that oppressed the ethnic Greek community of Mariupol.
According to a poll conducted by MEGA TV, 66% of Greeks disagree with sending military equipment to Ukraine, whilst only 29% agree with the government’s decision. The poll found that an overwhelming majority of Greeks (70%) back Ukraine in the war, but are against being involved and sending weapons, especially as the decision was made without Mitsotakis consulting his foreign minister, let alone the political opposition.
The poll’s data comes as TRAINOSE railway workers in Greece refused to carry NATO and US weapons from the port of Alexandroupolis to Ukraine. TRAINOSE employees, who were threatened with dismissal, said in a statement: “We will not be complicit in the passage of the war machine through the territory of our country. We railroad workers, by transporting NATO war materials, are working to ensure that the country is not involved in dangerous schemes.”
In Greece, railway workers protest against the transfer of US and NATO military armored vehicles to the Ukrainian border - activists douse it with red paint pic.twitter.com/UN6L1LXAKp
— Spriter (@spriter99880) April 2, 2022
For their part, furious railway bosses of the private company told workers: “You don't care what the trains carry, it's your job.” This sparked solidarity as railway workers from other parts of Greece refused to plug the labour gap in Alexandroupolis and held large-scale protests in major cities.
The New Democracy party is traditionally the pro-US/Atlanticist pole in Greek politics, but their accession to government in mid-2019 saw a revitalized foreign policy led by Dendias that sought a balance between the world’s Great Powers. However, the differing and competing factions within the party is well documented – mostly between the overtly pro-Washington faction and the pro-Paris/European faction. Even Turkish state-run media Anadolu Agency acknowledged factionalism in New Democracy, highlighting that Mitsotakis and his sister MP Dora Bakoyannis are part of a Turkey-friendly faction, in opposition to most of the party.
None-the-less, even with the significant progress in building modern Russian-Greek relations, the military operation in Ukraine provided the outlet for the pro-US faction of New Democracy to quickly reverse advancements made. From the Greek perspective, the military operation in Ukraine was always going to be condemned, especially as northern Cyprus remains occupied by Turkey. For citizens though, it is hard to fathom that Greece has become a weapons conduit for what they see as a depressing inter-Orthodox war.
For their part, New Democracy are now feeling the full affects of their Ukraine policy. According to a poll by Metron Analysis, when asked which party they would vote for if a general election was held, 27% of respondents picked the ruling party, massively down from the 39.85% achieved in the 2019 election. Much of this decline is over concerns for the economic situation, inflation and unemployment, which have significantly increased, especially after the imposition of sanctions against Russia.
However, despite the factionalism in New Democracy, it is still with little surprise that they quickly adhered to the call to send weapons to Ukraine. It is noted that US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt is a former ambassador to Ukraine and is known in Greece as the “architect of the Maidan coup.” With his encouragement, the decision to send weapons was made without consulting the Greek people and opposition parties, something that will come to haunt the New Democracy party in the next election.
It also comes as the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) released a report at the end of March that found New Democracy is “obsessed with controlling the message” and “minimizing critical and dissenting voices.” This has been proven beyond doubt, especially as pro-government media attempted to whitewash the Azov Battalion when at the same time the Greek Consul General to Mariupol Manolis Androulakis falsely claimed that the neo-Nazi group does not attack “their own people”, i.e. civilians. This is disturbing as effectively the Greek State and Greek media have whitewashed a criminal organization that terrorized the 120,000+ Greeks of Mariupol since 2014.
The Greek diplomat ignores the fact that only 10 days before the war began, the Azov Battalion killed an ethnic Greek and shot another two only for speaking Russian. At the same time, an ethnic Greek from Sartana on the outskirts of Mariupol testified that “The Russians do not discriminate, while the Ukrainians did, they forced us to speak only Ukrainian, although I do not know it at all.”
A Greek refugee from Mariupol testified that “I remember when leaving Mariupol, Ukrainian soldiers stopped us and threatened us. Russian soldiers in tanks were trying to calm us down after all of that.” Also, another ethnic Greek from Mariupol testified when asked if he planned to leave the city: “how can I leave? When you try to leave you run the risk of running into a patrol of the Ukrainian fascists, the Azov Battalion. They would kill me and are responsible for everything.”
Yet, despite Greece having the unique responsibility to maintain ties and connections with the 120,000+ Greeks of Mariupol, the government and its media arms have instead decided to whitewash the Azov Battalion, even to the point of claiming they do not harm civilians. More disturbingly, the weapons that Greece is transferring will end up in the same hands of those who oppressed the Greeks of Mariupol since 2014, especially because the majority of Greek villagers voted to join with the Donetsk People’s Republic, a fact that Athens finds difficult to acknowledge and reconcile with.