The Greek government has decided to expel two Russian diplomats and bar the entry of two others. The reason given is the accusation of these diplomats’ “intrusion into domestic affairs and illegal acts against Greece’s national security,” according to Kathimerini.
The concern that appears to have sparked this involves the deal struck between the Athens government and that of FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) in June. According to Radio Free Europe, the two countries agreed to rename the former Yugoslav republic to North Macedonia, which would pave the way for the remainder of Macedonia to join NATO. Russia does not support this, while Western Europe does.
Ekathimerini goes on:
More specifically, Athens is accusing the Russian diplomats of efforts to extract and circulate information, and to bribe Greek state operatives, which have failed.
The case brings to the forefront the tension that seems to have been brewing between Athens and Moscow over the last two years, for reasons that have to do with regional security.
According to high-level Greek diplomatic sources, Athens is calling for the immediate expulsion of two personnel, including the Russian Embassy official Victor Yakovlev, and the expulsion of two more.
The same sources note that the initiative follows numerous coordinated efforts to expand Russian influence in Greece including, among others, the activities of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society.
The New York Times goes on further to state that the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (IOPS) was suspected of being the conduit of Russian influence in Greece, most notably on Mount Athos, the Greek Orthodox monastic republic, an allegation that the IOPS categorically denied:
Kathimerini named the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society — an organization that promotes Russian ties to Christians in the Middle East — as being among certain groups trying to fan Russian influence in Greece, including in the Greek Orthodox monastic community of Mount Athos.
A representative of the society said it was not involved in any alleged attempts to bribe senior Greek Orthodox clergymen, the Russian state Interfax news agency reported.
“IOPS has nothing to do with this and I don’t believe that Russian diplomats or anyone can have anything to do with this,” Interfax quoted Sergei Zhitenev, deputy head of IOPS, as saying.
“There were no attempts from our side to influence local authorities, this never even occurred to us.”
The Russian News agency TASS reported that Moscow was expecting to take the same measures against Greece, and that some Greek diplomats would also be expelled from Russia:
Moscow always takes tit-for-tat measures in response to diplomat expulsions, an official at the Russian Foreign Ministry told reporters, commenting on media reports about the expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Greece.
“The expulsion of diplomats always leads to tit-for-tat measures,” the official said.
The Greek Kathimerini daily reported earlier citing diplomatic sources that Athens had decided to expel two Russian diplomats and ban another two from entering the country. According to the daily, the Greek authorities accuse the diplomats of interfering in the country’s domestic affairs and undermining the national security of Greece. The newspaper says that the diplomats are particularly accused of “attempts to get and disseminate information, as well as bribe state officials.” Athens’ decision is said to be “a response to a number of well-coordinated steps aimed at increasing Russia’s influence in Greece.”
However, the same sources said that Greece “is still willing to maintain good relations with Russia, facilitate friendship between the two countries’ people, as well as cooperation between the two governments and civil societies” based on equality and respect for each other’s sovereignty and independence. The sources added that Greece had been cautious about relations with Russia, particularly refraining from following the example of many Western states that had expelled Russian diplomats in the wake of the Skripal incident – a decision welcomed by the Russian leadership.Diplomatic sources stressed that Athens’ decision stemmed from the activities of the four diplomats and had nothing to do with Greece’s attitude towards Russia. They also said that any retaliatory measures that Moscow might take would be useless.