Tsipras Praises 'Brotherly Relations' Between Russia and Greece

Tsipras and Russia
Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras has told Russian media that he wishes to lay new foundations for Russian-Greek relations REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Greece's prime minister has told Russian media that his visit to Moscow, scheduled for next week, will lay new foundations for Russian-Greek relations, while speaking warmly of the two countries' historic "brotherly relations".

In an interview with the state-run Russian news service Tass published today, Alexis Tsipras spoke of the need for a "new impetus to Russian-Greek relations which have very deep roots in history and were hammered out in a joint struggle of our nations."

Tsipras is already reportedly scheduled to visit Moscow in May for the annual Victory Day parade, which marks the capitulation of the Nazis to the Red Army. But a fortnight ago, he announced that he would make another visit to Russia on April 8, a month ahead of schedule. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, declined an invitation to the Victory Day parade, citing Russia's involvement in Crimea and the crisis in Ukraine.

The Greek prime minister referred to the two countries' joint historic struggle against the Nazis, saying: "In 2015 we together mark the 70th anniversary of the Great anti-fascist victory and the victory of nations over Nazism."

"This anniversary has great importance both for the people of Russia and Greece. Our nations hammered out brotherly relations as they conducted a joint fight in the critically important historical moments," he said.

This growing closeness between the two nations has sparked unease in the rest of Europe, particularly as a number of Greek officials have already publicly made clear their appetite for turning to Russia or China for financial assistance if the ongoing negotiations between Greece and its European creditors end in failure.

The prospect of NATO member Greece moving closer to Russia and leaving the eurozone has been described by the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, as "the most dramatic chapter in all the history of the European Union".

But some analysts are sceptical as to whether Russia would provide the full extent of the financial assistance required by Greece. "Speculation that Russia might be an alternative source of funding appears groundless as Russia would be both unwilling and incapable of providing financial assistance at the necessary scale," says Dr Thanos Dokos, the director general of the Greek thinktank the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy. "Furthermore, the likelihood of Greece falling into Russia's orbit or any other fundamental shift in strategic orientation is virtually nil as long as Greece remains a full member of European and transatlantic institutions," he continues.

Despite this, Greece has a strong interest in maintaining and strengthening ties with Russia, according to Dokos. "Despite an obvious degree of hyperbole regarding Greece's relationship with Russia, it would be difficult for any Greek government to ignore the historical ties, but most importantly, the contemporary links between the two countries. Russia supplies 57% of Greece's natural gas, and is an important trade partner and potential investor," he says.

Tsipras also compared the blossoming friendship between the two countries as an emergence out of the "Siberian winter into spring", and said they would cooperate closely on economic matters, energy, trade and agriculture. Tsipras also that Greece, as a member of the EU, could serve as "a link and a bridge between the west and Russia".

Tsipras spoke of his opposition to the sanctions imposed on Russia by the west as a result of the crisis in Ukraine, saying that Greece has suffered due to a Russian food import ban that the Russian president Vladimir Putin imposed in response to the sanctions. "We disagree with sanctions," Tsipras told Tass. "I see it as a road to nowhere."

In February, Tsipras condemned European sanctions on Russia, arguing that Russia's retaliatory bans on fresh fruit and vegetables from the European Union was harming the Greek economy.