Russia stepped up its criticism of Greece over the eviction of 2 of its diplomats from their Russian Embassy in Athens accusing the Greek Government of indulging in “dirty provocations” around Macedonia’s plan to become a NATO member. Four Russian envois were banned from the Greece premises after the evidence revealed that Russia was trying to foment opposition against a historic deal between Macedonia and Greece that was likely to make their way in NATO membership and hence weaken Russian influence in the Western Balkans. Greece declared that it will expel 2 diplomats while banning 2 others.
In the year 2008, the NATO union agreed to invite the Macedonia state to join their military alliance after the settlement of their name dispute. Soon, the NATO meeting in Brussels will conclude with a formal invitation to join NATO. Earlier, Greece had claimed that the title Macedonia implied a territorial claim on the Greek province. According to the Greek reports, Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, an organization which promotes Russian ties to Christians in the Middle East was named as being among the groups trying to fan Russian influence in Greece. However, any such attempt has been denied by the representatives of the society stating that it wasn’t involved in any alleged attempts to bribe the senior Greek Orthodox clergymen, the Russian state Interfax news agency reported.
Zoran Zaev, the Macedonian Prime Minister, while delivering his speech at the recent NATO summit, beckoned that he knew Russia was behind the protests outside his own parliament. However, his country does not seek any conflict. “We are a small country. We want to build a friendship with everybody. There is no alternative but Nato membership,” he said during his discourse. He said that countries like Bulgaria, managed to triple their foreign direct investment by becoming a member of a NATO alliance, and he believed that the same boost would be delivered to his country. Russia who is reportedly involved in a struggle for influence with EU across the region has already been suspected of backing a failed coup in Montenegro in 2016.
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova alleged that Greece, a NATO member since 1952 had acted under pressure from their military bases. “We are fully aware that Greece was subjected to pressure at the highest level,” Zakharova told reporters. While ordering the Russian diplomats out of the Greece premises, Greek officials insisted that they are in the favour of maintaining friendly relations with Russia and would ready to put the incident behind the bars. However, Zarakhova’s constant remarks prompted an angry response from the Greek foreign ministry.
“The constant disrespect for Greece must stop. No one can or has the right to interfere in Greece’s domestic affairs,” the ministry told the reporters.
“The Russian authorities themselves are very well aware of what their people do,” the statement continued. “The evidence based on which Greece acted was presented to the Russian authorities in a timely manner.”
“We had issued warnings to Russian authorities for some time over the actions of these specific four diplomats and civilians, and on Friday it was officially raised, giving them a reasonable period of a few days to leave the country,” reported a Greek government source On their defence, Russia said that it would adopt similar actions against Greek diplomats in the NATO summit at MOSCOW. The expelled diplomats by the Greek that was later relayed by the Greek Government to Russia on July 6, were evidently found to be encouraging the rallies and movements to oppose the Macedonia name deal. Moreover, they were reportedly found to offer bribes to the opponents of the deal. The historic name deal witnessed the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia surrender to the Greek objections attain the new title of Northern Macedonia.
Russia and Greece have been successful in maintaining warm relations with each other until now. Athens was one of the few countries that rejected British request to expel the Russian diplomats on their claim of Russian involvement in the poisoning of the Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Nevertheless, the Russian embassy has been accused before for indulging in malpractices especially in Greek politics which followed the leak of a tranche of emails in 2015.