Athens, May 4, 2016/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Spiros Sideris
Preparations for the visit of Vladimir Putin to Greece in late May are continuing at a feverish pace. Contacts between Greek authorities, the Russian Embassy in Athens and the envoys of Moscow in the capital and Thessaloniki are now in the final stretch.
Putin visits on the occasion of the celebrations for the millennial presence of Russians on Mount Athos; the Russian President will attend events hosted by the Holy Monastery of Panteleimon. There, according to IBNA sources, he will be accompanied by the President of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, representating the Greek leadership. Then, according to the current schedule, Vladimir Putin will travel to Athens to meet with Alexis Tsipras.
Putin’s visit to Greece at this particular time is of great importance both for the Greek side and for the Russian.
For the Greek side it is important because it has the ability to revive Greece’s relations with the largest Orthodox country; relations which went through an indifferent phase following misguided choices by then Syriza, now Popular Unity officials, are now set for rapproachement. A rapprochement that might – if the Greek side does not operate like a year ago – bear several geopolitical and economic benefits.
For its part, Russia wants to send a message to Europe that it has a voice and it can have access to the Mediterranean, not only via Syria where Europeans are trying to cancel its military base, butalso via Greece. Russian presence in the Mediterranean is deemed very important by Putin. The tension in Russia’s relations with Turkey, the cold relations with former allied countries of the Warsaw Pact and the effort to isolate the EU, finds an outlet only in Greece, which remains a prospectively friendly country.
The issues to be addressed by the two leaders in their respective meetings, are many. Economic, cultural and military cooperation are the main points to be discussed.
Energy cooperation is not primarily the dominant point in the thinking of Russia, as is the impending Russian involvement in ports, airports and rail infrastructure. Russians seek scope for easy access both in Europe and in Asia and Africa. There are several countries in Asia and Africa that are sympathetic to Russia and do not want to lose their contacts with the country.
Putin needs the Greek ports, airports and railway line. He also needs shares in energy companies that he could take advantage of in the long term. At this specific period he is not interested in Greece and the South of Europe in terms of the energy sector. The parallel Northern pipeline is enough for Europe. The big challenge for him is the Asian market, China and India, in terms of gas and oil.
Vladimir Putin also knows something else very well; as much as he may want to, the Thessaloniki port cannot be accessible to Russian interests because it is a NATO port. This makes him turn his interest to Kavala and Alexandroupolis; mainly tartgeting the latter. It is no coincidence at all that the Russian side is making efforts to forge cultural “ties” with Alexandroupolis, through organizations and joint activities in various fields – mostly cultural at the moment.
Another advantage Alexandroupolis has is the railway line, which connects it with the rest of Greece as well as Bulgaria and Turkey. Even Thrace has a large population of Russian-speaking Greeks who repatriated in the early 90s from the former Soviet Union. This facilitates the aspirations of the Russians in the region.
The Greek side, on the other hand, needs a real ally and not one Europe will fear as mistakenly happened in 2015. The Russians want an ally within Europe and Greece qualifies for the part. The Greek government must speak in different terms with Russia, a huge market for its agricultural products and more. It is not the right time for leftist obsessions, but for an alliance which is governed by capitalist market rules at all levels. The USSR lost long ago and Greece should not miss another chance when it comes to Russia.