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Greece Signals Left Turn by Opposing Increased Sanctions on Russia

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras / Getty Images

Greece’s new radical left wing-dominated government signaled on Tuesday that friction with its European partners might extend from economic to foreign policy when it distanced itself from an EU call to consider broader sanctions against Russia, the Financial Times said.

A spokesman for the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Greece had not approved a statement from EU heads of government that asked their foreign ministers to review further sanctions in response to the latest flare-up of violence in eastern Ukraine, blamed by the US and most European nations on Russian-backed separatists, the Times said.

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The Greek statement raised questions over whether the new government, led by the radical leftist Syriza party, would support a continuation of existing EU sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials and Moscow-supported separatists, when they come up for renewal in March, the report said.

Tsipras’ intervention is likely to add to concerns in EU capitals, especially Berlin, about growing Russian influence in southeastern Europe and the Balkans. German chancellor Angela Merkel warned last month that Moscow was trying to make some Balkan states “politically and economically dependent”, the Times said.

The first foreign diplomat to meet Tsipras after his formal appointment as premier on Monday was Andrei Maslov, the Russian ambassador to Athens, who passed on a congratulatory telegram from President Vladimir Putin, according to the Times. China’s ambassador followed suit on Tuesday, the EU Observer said.

Tsipras visited Moscow last May to meet with Russian MPs and Putin associates. He voiced support, at the time, for Crimea’s “referendum” on independence. In addition, he said the EU “is shooting itself in the foot” by imposing sanctions and complained that the pro-EU government in Kiev contains “neo-Nazis”, according to the Observer.

The Greek embassy to the EU is playing down the development as confusion linked to the hand-over of power in Athens, the Observer said.

Nikolai Fyodorov, Russia’s agriculture minister, suggested on January 16 that, if Greece’s debt woes forced it to leave the EU, the Kremlin would help Athens by lifting a ban on Greek food exports that forms part of the measures adopted by Moscow in retaliation for western sanctions, the Times said.

Syriza has already given a taste of its foreign policy outlook in the European Parliament, where, since last May’s elections, its MEPs have adopted a number of pro-Russian positions, including voting against a EU-Ukrainian association agreement, according to the Times.

Costas Isychos, a Syriza foreign affairs spokesman, last year derided western sanctions on Russia as “neocolonial bulimia” and praised the military efforts of the Kremlin-backed separatists in Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, the report said.

Syriza’s 2013 party manifesto demanded Greece’s exit from Nato and the closure of a U.S. navy base on the island of Crete. However, the party has since then played down its hostility to Nato, making clear its highest priority is to secure extensive debt relief from its EU partners and to abandon austerity policies at home, the Times said,

Though a Nato member, Greece in modern times has often enjoyed warm relations with Russia, and the Soviet Union before it, no matter what the political complexion of the government in Athens. The two countries are culturally close, with a shared Orthodox religion, and leftwing Greeks in the cold war used to have an anti-U.S., anti-imperialist outlook very close to the views of Moscow, the report said.




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