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Greece

Greece

  • While historically friendly with Russia, relations between Russia and Greece have warmed significantly with Syriza in power
  • The current Greek government maintains exceptionally close ties with the Kremlin and other prominent Russian figures
  • Greece does not acknowledge any threat pertaining to disinformation or subversive influence stemming from Russia

Relations with the Russian Federation


Kremlin friendly. Does not feel threatened and is advocating for better relations with Russia, often regardless what atrocities Moscow is responsible for. Often supports Kremlin’s foreign policy objectives, such as stopping further sanctions under arguments related to appeasement or alleged business ties.[1]

Greece is one of the oldest NATO member states and the first Balkan state to join the EU. Greece’s difficult history with Turkey has urged it to look to Russia for support, although this has changed with recent Turkish friendliness with Russia. Both Greece and Russia have taken an interest to each other throughout history. While the countries have been friendly in the past, this turned into outright support with the election of Syriza in 2015.[2] Consequently, Greece has typically expressed opposition to any EU measures that could alienate Russia. The current Greek government, caught in the middle of a severe economic and financial crisis, has courted Russia in hopes of receiving aid that Brussels has failed to provide (and thereby also gain negotiation leverage). Greece is thus best described as one of the EU’s three ‘Kremlin friendlies’, together with Italy and Cyprus. For all this, Greece nonetheless remains committed to the EU and NATO, despite its extensive efforts to simultaneously maintain warm bilateral relations with Russia. According to the latest Eurobarometer, 66% of Greeks had a positive view of Russia. A poll from the University of Macedonia found that 67% of Greeks have positive opinions of Putin.[3]


 
Political acknowledgement of the threat


In Greece, there is no political acknowledgement at all of any hostile Russian activity. On the contrary, the current government is very sympathetic to Russian interests and worldview, according to which the West is the aggressor and Russia is on the defensive. Indeed, rather than recognizing the threat of Russia’s disinformation campaign and subversive efforts, Greek officials maintain close political ties with Russia. In 2016 before the NATO summit, Greece also signed an arms deal with Russia on the basis that it is necessary to maintain the Greek defence industry during the economic crisis.[4]

Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation


Following the absolute lack of political acknowledgement, there are predictably no state efforts whatsoever to counteract Russian disinformation or other hostile influence operations; indeed, these issues are officially treated as non-existent by the Greek government. Though Greece has historically maintained a friendly relationship with Russia, it has sought even closer ties with Moscow in light of the economic crisis and the stringent demands of its creditors. The current government has notably intimate ties with Russia: the radical left-wing Syriza party has never supported EU sanctions on Russia and has very close contacts with Vladimir Putin, Russian nationalist Aleksander Dugin, and Russian oligarchs.[5] Greece’s sympathy towards Russia is so strong that Syriza has spoken frequently against sanctions on Russia.[6]

Accordingly, Greece can be labelled Russia’s most important Trojan horse in Brussels. Within the EU, Greece serves as a frequent advocate for Russian interests and maintains a stance of passive resistance to any punitive measures aimed at counteracting Russian belligerence. Russian oligarchs have bought stakes in Greek media and Greek energy firms.[7] The Greek-Russian businessman Ivan Savvidis is one of the most prominent of these oligarchs; while openly proclaiming his support for Syriza, he has bought a football club, several historical newspapers and even management of the port of Thessaloniki.[8]

The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference


Following the official government line, there do not appear to be any significant Greek counterintelligence activities vis-à-vis Russian disinformation or other hostile influence operations. There is no official acknowledgement of any such threat emanating from Russia.

Activities of the non-governmental sector


There are no non-governmental initiatives concerned with the threat of disinformation, hostile influence operations, or media literacy. On the contrary, public approval of Russia remains high, and the positions of various civic agents are in fact sympathetic to Russian narratives and disinformation about the West. Such sympathies are even more prominent considering Syriza’s views on sanctions against Russia and Ukraine.



[1] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/russia/ 
[2] Markos Kounalakis and Antonis Klapsis. (2017) “Greece: Still the EU’s Weak Link?“ in The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses 2: Russian Influence in Greece, Italy, and Spain. November 2017. http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/images/The_Kremlins_Trojan_Horses_2_web_1121.pdf 
[3] Theo Ioannou. (2017) “Survey: Greeks Trust Russia and Putin over Merkel and Trump”. Greek Reporter. 8 October 2017. http://greece.greekreporter.com/2017/10/08/survey-greeks-trust-russia-and-putin-over-merkel-trump/ 
[4] Con Couglin. (2017) “Nato’s United Front under Threat after Greece Signs Arms Deal with Russia”. The Telegraph. 8 July 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/natos-united-front-under-threat-after-greece-signs-arms-deal-wit/ 
[5] Dempsey (2015); Stanek, H. (2016). “Is Russia’s Alliance with Greece a Threat to NATO?” The National Interest. 17 July 2016.  http://nationalinterest.org/feature/russias-alliance-greece-threat-nato-16998

[6] Ben Chu. (2015) “Greece Crisis: Alexis Tsipras Woos Vladimir Putin as Greeks Rush for their Savings”. The Independent. 19 June 2015.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/greece-crisis-alexis-tsipras-woos-vladimir-putin-as-greeks-rush-for-their-savings-10333104.html 
[7] Rick Noack. (2017) “The European parties accused of being influenced by Russia”. The Washington Post. 17 November 2017.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/11/17/the-european-parties-accused-of-being-influenced-by-russia/?utm_term=.4b17835bb4c0 
[8] “Greek-Russian tycoon intervenes in politics”. Kathimerini. 2 May 2017.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/218081/article/ekathimerini/news/greek-russian-tycoon-intervenes-in-politics 

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