Tsipras's Russian gambit shows that Greece is ready to play all its cards in order to put pressure on Europe. Tsipras’s rapprochement to Russia and the US is an attempt to redefine the Greek foreign policy by taking advantage of the geostrategic location of Greece between Europe, Africa and Asia. Greco-Russian ties and the affinity between the two nations is nothing new. Fundamentally, the Orthodox faith that both countries fervently follow is the common denominator which created the perception of a “brotherhood” between Greeks and Russians. Historically, Russian influence on Greek politics goes back to the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Russia was one of the three Great Powers, along with Britain and France, which destroyed the Ottoman fleet in Navarino, forcing the Ottomans to capitulate and accept the autonomy of the Greek state.
Alexis Tsipras is not the only Greek PM who has sought to establish strong economic ties with Russia. Kostas Karamanlis attempted to sign a number of agreements with Russia during his tenure (between 2004 and 2010). The most important of them was the natural gas pipeline project Burgas-Alexandroupolis, which was later canceled by the Bulgarian part. In the same spirit, the radical left governing party of Syriza attempts to reignite the relations between Russia and Greece. The Russian embargo on EU agricultural products, as a response to sanctions that the EU had put on Russia, has hit hard the battling Greek economy. The financial damage for Greek farmers is estimated to be around €180 million. Similarly, the devaluation of the rubble has decreased spending of Russians tourists abroad, and it is one of main sources of revenue in the Greek tourist industry. The third point of the Greek PM’s visit in Moscow was to agree on an extension of the Turkish Stream pipeline which would deliver Russian gas to Europe via Greece, and would cause a drop in gas price for Greece.
On the other hand, Moscow sees the visit of Alexis Tsipras as a chance to break the foreign policy cohesion of Europe. Greece could be used as the weak link. If the Greeks were tempted to lift the sanctions, other countries, for instance Hungary, might follow suit resulting in a domino effect that would weaken the EU’s leverage in Ukraine. The symbolic gift that Putin gave to his Greek counterpart, an icon of St. Spyridon and St. Nicholas, which had been stolen from Greece by the Nazis during their WWII occupation, was all but random. It came at the same time the Greek WWII reparations bill is on the table and when the relations between Athens and Berlin have reached a breaking point. The oxymoron is that Mr Tsipras is not religious, as most of members the Syriza government which refused to take the traditional religious oath when it came into power.
Athens finds itself in a difficult situation, almost in deadlock. The negotiations over the Greek debt did not result in what Syriza had expected. At this time a possible “Grexit” is a frequent topic of discussion. However, instead of a “Grexit”, the EU and Greece should focus on “Grecovery”. Even though Greece, in its attempt to find allies, has infuriated members of the Eurogroup, there is still room for reconciliation and making amends. The solidarity of peoples of Europe was one of the main pillars of creation of the EU. It is high time solidarity became the norm once more. Otherwise, reckless decisions will work as fateful determinants against the interests of Europe and Greece.