Russian President Vladimir Putin took another step to disturb ties between Russia and Europe when he invited new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Moscow on May 9.
Tsipras is a member of the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) Party, which won the latest Greek elections.
“The president invited Tsipras to visit Russia at a convenient time,” said Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s aide. “They discussed international issues, Ukraine, and the situation with South Stream.”
Putin expressed interest in transporting natural gas to the European Union through Greece, since the war between Ukraine and Russia stopped natural gas flow through Ukraine. In June, the EU told Bulgaria to stop construction on the South Stream pipeline while the organization reviews how companies received the contracts. This, as well as Russia’s collapsing economy, forced Putin to shut down construction on the $50 billion pipeline and build one through Turkey instead.
But gas is not the only reason Putin is interested in Greece. Tsipras shocked the EU when he told them he did not want to expand on sanctions against Russia. The EU imposed the sanctions due to Russia’s participation in the war in east Ukraine. Greek diplomats changed their minds on Thursday without explanations.
“The new Greek government is cause for concern, especially because Tsipras has voiced his opposition to NATO membership in the past,” explained Ian Bremmer. “And his early actions — these comments regarding sanctions, as well as his meeting with the Russian ambassador to Greece within hours of taking office — demonstrate that he is willing to engage differently with Moscow.”
For its part, Russia would love to leverage Tsipras to sow European disunity on sanctions … and that’s just a starting point. Russia could use a warm water port in the Mediterranean. If things go badly for Greece, that’s an interesting geopolitical option, and we could start to see it leveraging its relationship with Russia much more forcefully.