In what has become the first major foreign policy move by the far-left newly elected government of Greece, new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ office has denied that his country assented to a European Union statement released this week condemning Russia’s further meddling in Ukraine.
“The statement does not have Greece’s consent,” a Tsipras government official asserted, adding that the government planned an official statement rebuking the EU’s harsh statement calling for more sanctions on Russia. The new Greek government released this statement shortly before officially taking office, and insisted that, while Greece is currently in “tough negotiations” on sanctions on Russia, the lack of communication with Greece on the part of the European Union was problematic for the new party.
Following Tsipras’ declaration, the government of Cyprus expressed “both procedural and substantive displeasure” with the EU declaration, noting that they, too, had not been consulted, according to Greek newspaper Ta Nea.
The EU statement encouraged foreign ministers internationally to “assess the situation and to consider any appropriate action, in particular on further restrictive measures,” with regards to Russia’s support of anti-government gangs in eastern Ukraine. The separatist gangs attacked the maritime city of Mariupol this week, and evidence has surfaced of increased Russian involvement in the region.
The European Union has responded to Greece’s protests by noting that the Greek government did not actually object to the statement released:
“It was our understanding that the statement had been agreed by all yesterday evening (Monday). Greece didn’t object to the draft statement, either in the phone call between President Tusk and Prime Minister Tsipras nor in the communication with the new Greek Sherpa,” said [European Council President Donald Tusk’s] spokesman, Preben Aamann, referring to a senior Greek diplomat.
Russian state media appears elated at Tsipras’ move to repudiate encouragement of sanctions, even if more on procedural than substantive grounds. Russia Today writes that Greece “has spoken out against the EU partners over the statement that lays the blame for Saturday’s fatal attack on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Russia.” Greece has criticized not being incorporated in that statement, which cites the Mariupol attack as one of several instances of evidence against Russia regarding the invasion of Ukraine. However, Russia Today leaves out declarations by the Greek government that they are still mulling the situation regarding sanctions, opting instead to frame Greece as an ally.
The new government of Greece, under the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), is certainly closer ideologically to Putin than the previous incumbent, the center-right New Democracy Party. Experts tell CNBC that drawing Greece further from the EU and closer to Russia as Syriza attempts to default on its debt in an anti-austerity move could prove attractive to the Russian government. “Although (Russia President Vladimir) Putin has problems of his own and would probably not be in a position to help Greece, he wouldn’t be averse to stirring the pot and pushing a wedge between Greece and Europe,” said Michael Hewson, chief markets analyst at CMC Markets.