EU foreign ministers are holding an emergency meeting in Brussels on Thursday after a five-month ceasefire in eastern Ukraine collapsed, raising the spectre of open war as Russian-backed rebels turn their sights to the port city of Mariupol.
However, political divisions in the EU are preventing a hard-hitting response from the 28-member bloc. In particular, the new radical leftwing government of Alexis Tsipras in Greece has said it has a “general reservation” on the EU’s proposals to work towards more sanctions [It seems that existing sanctions will be extended].
In draft conclusions for Thursday’s meeting, the EU is expected only to instruct the European Commission to undertake further “preparatory work” on loosely defined restrictive measures, although the EU’s foreign service says that it has already undertaken “extensive preparatory work”.
“Undertake further “preparatory work” on loosely defined restrictive measure.”
Now those are words that will strike fear in the Kremlin.
The EU is not a nation. In a saner world it would have no claim to a foreign policy. When it comes to international relations, the countries within the EU have, quite naturally, different views as to where their national interests lie. They should act accordingly. To that extent (and only to that extent) the Greeks are right to say no.
The way to respond to Russia is through more tightly aligned “coalitions of the willing.” To the extent that some countries decline to sign up, that will be instructive, but not necessarily fatal. The alternative is for the EU to proceed as it has to do, at the pace of the slowest, which, if Greece carries on as it is doing, will be no pace at all. The EU, in short, should get out of the way.
In another article, the Financial Times looks at the connections between Putin’s Russia and the new Greek government:
While some diplomats and analysts see Mr Tsipras’s intervention against more sanctions as an opening gambit in forthcoming negotiations over Greece’s international bailout and debt burden, others point to it as another example of spreading Russian influence in southeastern Europe.
European and Nato intelligence officials are now poring over links between the Kremlin and senior figures from Syriza and its coalition partner, the Independent Greeks party.
If they are really only doing so “now” they have been asleep at the wheel.
The FT goes on to give more background, including the delightful comments by the Syriza leader about the post-Maidan Ukrainian government (“It’s a regression . . . to see fascism and the neo Nazis entering European governments again”) and adds as follows:
Other members of Greece’s new government harbour similar views. Nikos Kotzias, the foreign minister, and Panos Kammenos, defence minister, have both been cultivated by figures close to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Mr Kotzias — a former Piraeus university professor — has espoused increasingly nationalist positions, developing a relationship with Alexander Dugin, the Russian nationalist philosopher, during several visits to Moscow, according to a colleague who declined to be identified.
Mr Dugin, who is close to several figures in the Moscow security establishment and last August called for a “genocide” of Ukrainians, was invited by Mr Kotzias to speak at an event in the Piraeus campus in 2013, where he extolled the role of Orthodox Christianity in uniting Greeks and Russians [I posted something on that here].
Mr Kammenos has also been a frequent visitor to Moscow. A picture shows him in the Russian capital two weeks ago, meeting the chairman of the Russian Duma’s foreign affairs committee and the deputy chairman of its defence committee.
When thinking about the role that Dugin may or may not be playing, it’s worth looking at this story from Radio Free Europe. It’s fair to note that some of it appears to rest on allegedly hacked e-mails, and that all sides can play at dezinformatsiya (so caution is called for), but still . . .
In December 2014, a Russian hacker group named Shaltai Boltai released a trove of e-mails taken from Georgy Gavrish, a close friend of Dugin’s and an official in Dugin’s Eurasia movement. Many of the e-mails relate to efforts by Dugin and Malofeyev to create a circle of European politicians and intellectuals sympathetic to Russia. Several dozen of the e-mails reveal conversations between Gavrish and people inside Syriza, says Christo Grozev, a media investor and blogger specializing in information issues in eastern Europe.
The messages show “very close cooperation on strategy, on PR, and so on,” Grozev says. He says that Syriza consultants would send “strategic memoranda” on party positions and policies to Dugin and Gavrish for their comments and suggestions. Gavrish lived in Greece for several years until about 2013. “Over those five years, he [Gavrish] served, apparently, as a proxy for Dugin to find like-minded or susceptible politicians and public figures in Greece to engage with Dugin’s ideology of Eurasianism versus Atlanticism,” Grozev says.
…Grozev says that he has been surprised by the extent of the “mysticism” he sees in the correspondence between the Greeks and Dugin’s people. Nicolas Laos [reportedly a Syriza adviser with business ties to Russia] and Gavrish, particularly, are constantly talking about alleged Freemasons “within the Greek political environment who are, by definition, according to them, the biggest enemies of the Russian line.”
That sort of talk (if it has been accurately reported) can sometimes come with a distinctly uncomfortable historical resonance.