Why Obama’s visit to Athens is not just about Greek debt

Why Obama’s visit to Athens is not just about Greek debt

The visit of the outgoing US President Barack Obama to Athens is going to go down as one of the important moments in Greece’s political history.

It’s the fourth visit by an American President to Greece, and even if it’s taking place a week after Donald Trump’s election victory, it has its own special significance, since the American President through this visit is showing his support, even if it was a last minute decision.

Although the government and Greek Prime – Minister Alexis Tsipras,expected  the US President to refer to the impairment of Greek debt something which did eventually happen, Washington obviously had other plans in mind.

Semantically the first mention, beyond compliments to Greece and the Greeks, was the US President’s appreciation for Greece’s firm commitment to “our alliance.” This alone shows US priorities.

NATO and energy are the key issues of concern to the US side. On one hand they seek to reduce dependence on Russian gas and to ensure the transfer of US natural gas to Greece. On the other, NATO forces in the Aegean used to facilitate the strengthening of maritime borders between Turkey and Greece will likely become permanent, so that they act as a deterrent to Russian forces in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Barack Obama’s mention that he discussed “the importance of the continued imposition of sanctions, including those of the European Union against Russia”, with Alexis Tsipras is not coincidental. Obviously the American president wants to protect the area from a potential Russian influence. Alarm bells are also ringing from both the pro-Russian election in Moldova and the Socialist president in Bulgaria who has made no secret of his preference in Vladimir Putin.

Here we should note that the strengthening of Greece – Bulgaria relations is a US creation that pressured the Bulgarian side to converge with Greece. Barack Obama’a fear of leaving behind a region vulnerable to Russian influence pushed him to make his last trip to Greece under the debt pretext, but with other intentions on the back of his mind.

This does not mean that it doesn’t serve Greek interests, provided that Alexis Tsipras seizes the opportunity this visit gives him. Moreover, Obama’s reference that “austerity can not be a recipe for development” was the message the Greek government wanted.

But judging by the Greek Prime Minister’s reactions, his embarrassment, stress and evident awkwardness during the press conference, he probably expected much more./ΙΒΝΑ

Photo: IBNA/Spiros Sideris