Britain’s well-known keenness to keep Russia, and then the Soviet Union, and now again just Russia, away from the Eastern Mediterranean is a well-established fact of foreign policy. Since the end of the last world war, the same policy has returned, albeit in the new colours of America, with the UK in attendance. This article traces some key events in the continuing atavistic story and then attempts to prognosticate, concluding that, whatever the public relations spin on events, little has altered since the assassination of Greece’s first pro-Russian leader, Count Kapodistrias, other than cosmetically. In short, the same things return, but with different colours.
In 1841, the British Minister to Greece, Sir Edmund Lyons, said: ‘A truly independent Greece is an absurdity. Greece can either be English or Russian, and since she cannot be Russian, it is necessary that she be English.’ His words show that the Cold War began long before the so-called Truman Doctrine. In fact, one can pre-date the beginning of a Cold War mentality to 1791, when the English Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, lambasted Russia for wishing to dismember Anatolia. This was only some twenty-two years after Catherine the Great’s attempt to free Greece via the Orlov brothers. At any rate, when Greece’s first leader, the pro-Russian Kapodistrias (a former Russian foreign minister), was assassinated in 1831, Britain breathed a sigh of relief. Thenceforth, Greece was a mere geopolitical tool of the world’s largest empire. The Crimean War demonstrates par excellence Britain’s insistence on keeping Russia away from Greece, just as does Britain’s possession of Cyprus in 1878, whereby Britain undertook to support the Ottoman Empire against Russia. Fast-forward to 1944 when, despite Churchill’s’ ‘percentages agreement’ with Stalin, whereby Greece would be ten per cent Russian and ninety English, Britain was still highly suspicious of its ‘ally’ Russia, even though the Foreign Office had admitted that Britain, not the Soviet Union, was responsible for the strength of the Communists in Greece (and Yugoslavia). 1947 is a key year, since this is when Britain literally handed Greece to the US, thus extricating itself from her embarrassing rôle in having aided and abetted the Greek civil war. Britain thus brought America into the Balkans, thereby replacing the dead Austro-Hungarian Empire as its pro-Ottoman and then pro-Turkish friend.
Greece now appears to be again becoming one of the American military and commercial empire’s most compliant partners. Let us again go backwards: Trumanesque Greece was firmly part of the US and NATO Cold War strategy, with the Left Wing being reviled by the anti-communist deep state which, when threatened by liberalisation, engineered the military coup of 1967. This brought in a particularly pro-American government. Despite the US-condoned invasion of Cyprus, which led to the fall of the Junta, Greece’s leaving NATO’s integrated military structure for a few years, Andreas Papandreou’s short-lived push for more independence in foreign policy, and former recent Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis’ attempts to move closer to Moscow (e.g. the abortive Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline), Greece is now again moving very much into the US/NATO camp. This was epitomised by the recent signing of the ‘EastMed Act’, which improves US military cooperation with Greece and establishes areas of cooperation such as energy security in the region, according to Jim Risch, chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The US is particularly happy with the agreement between Greece, Cyprus and Israel on gas exploration since it will reduce European dependence on Russian gas. The US is even happier with Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ public support for the assassination of Iran’s top general, Soleimani, which contrasts with France and Germany’s muted response. It is no exaggeration to state that Greece is in many respects emulating the foreign policy of the military dictatorship of 1967–1974.
Another factor in all this is the Greek-American one. There are estimated to be 1,400,000 Americans of Greek heritage, all with relatives in Greece, and all descended from immigrants. As with many immigrants, particularly those who have had to leave their country for economic reasons, many are beholden to their host country’s policies, but particularly in the case of policy vis-à-vis Russia. They are spearheaded by the American Hellenic Institute, and lobby constantly to try and persuade the US to be firmer with Turkey on the Cyprus question. Yet they are by and large also anti-communist, and therefore anti-Russian, as if the Cold War is uppermost in their minds, with their apparent inability to differentiate between Communism and modern Russia.
The Greek government seems to naïvely think that by making Greece a US military strongpoint, as it has just done, it will gain US support, to help Greece to combat Turkish claims on some Greek islands. This is naïve, and the US Embassy has written: ‘We recognize Greece’s border with Turkey, but not all the territorial waters implications which Greece asserts. We have not taken a position on sovereignty over Imia/Kardak, in part because of the lack of an agreed maritime boundary….. We recognize the six-mile territorial sea claim and a claim to the superjacent air space. We do not recognize Greece’s claim to territorial air space seaward of the outer limit of its territorial sea.”
Greece can expect no help from the US if Turkey does manage to grab a Greek island. Indeed, whatever the rhetoric, Turkey is more important to US and NATO interests than Greece. As the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office wrote in 1975, reflecting US policy then and now, “We must also recognise that in the final analysis Turkey must be regarded as more important to Western strategic interests than Greece and that, if risks must be run, they should be risks of further straining Greek rather than Turkish relations with the West.” This is still true, whatever the public relations socio-political engineering. Greece also seems to have forgotten that the US facilitated and condoned the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. More worrying, Iran has already threatened retaliation if the US uses any base in Greece to attack it. In diplomacy, detail and precision are more important than pseudo-bonhomie and vague words. Yet, perhaps paradoxically, Greece’s behaviour puts Russia in a strong position. Before elaborating on this, let us first look at ‘Russian Greece’.
As we have seen, the assassination of Greece’s first leader was the first blow to Greece-Russia relations, ushering in a period of instability and foreign, mainly French and British, interference. Yet the modern Greek state would not even have come about as it did, were it not for Russia: the Anglo-Russian Protocol of April 4, 1826, stated that Britain would mediate to make Greece an autonomous vassal of the Ottoman Empire, but that if this proved impossible, the two powers could intervene jointly or separately. Russia intervened, and Britain was forced to adopt an ‘if you can’t beat’em, join ‘em’ approach. Thus, the British-Russian-French fleet sunk the Ottoman-Egyptian fleet at Navarino, followed by Russia’s defeating the Ottomans in a quick war. Greece was thus able to gain its – albeit qualified — independence, as a protectorate of the ‘Powers’. Thereafter, Britain’s gunboat ‘diplomacy’ ensured that Greece was unable to support Russia officially in the Crimean War: Britain simply blockaded Piraeus. But during the Russian Revolution, Greece made a major strategic mistake by fighting the Bolsheviks, to Britain’s glee, thus helping Moscow justify supporting Mustafa Kemal. Although Greece and the Soviet Union were technically on the same side (i.e. the Greek government in exile) following the German invasion of Russia, the result of the Greek civil war and the Truman Doctrine put paid to any possibility of warm relations between Athens and Moscow. Stalin’s internal exiling of around 50,000 Soviet Greeks eastwards should be seen in this context, particular the groups exiled in the late Forties. Thereafter, the banning of the Greek Communist Party in Greece and the military Junta of 1967 to 1974 put paid to serious relations between Athens and Moscow. Thereafter, any serious attempts to improve relations have been thwarted in one way or another. Perhaps understandably, Moscow has considerable difficulty in trusting Greek governments, given Greece’s NATO-friendly energy policy, such as the US-sponsored Greece — Cyprus — Israel triangle, and now the military agreement with the US.
Therefore, whatever the natural, historical atavistic affinity between the Greek and Russian peoples — viz., inter alia, the Cyrillic alphabet, Orthodox Christianity, the Treaty of Küçük Kainardji (whereby Russia won the right to protect Christians in the Ottoman Empire), a commercial treaty granting Greek ships the protection of the Russian flag, the establishment of a military academy for Greeks in Russia, the Greek Battalion of Balaclava (part of the Russian Imperial Army), and the pro-Russian Kapodistrias, strategic reality has to date proved stronger than nostalgia, emotion and atavistic affinity.
The Turkish Factor
On top of this, from a purely strategic viewpoint, Turkey is more important to Russia than Greece, one of the most obvious reasons being the fact that the Bosphorus Straits are on Turkish territory, and that Russia values its rights of passage. As Russia has seen Greece being used increasingly by the US as a tool to frustrate various Russian interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, so Russia has been skilfully playing on Turkish sensitivities to build up its influence. The sale of the S-400 system to Turkey, to Washington’s rage, is a prime example. Moscow has understood that unlike Greece, it can influence events, and chip away at US and NATO interests via Turkey: Realpolitik and soft power par excellence.
The Cyprus Complication
No consideration of Greece-Russia relations can be complete without some reference to Cyprus. The days of Archbishop Makarios’ balanced relations with Moscow are dead and gone. Although Russia has taken various initiatives, such as proposing an international conference on Cyprus, NATO and the EU have resisted this. Russian proposals to rid the island of foreign armed forces are anathema to the US and Britain, who would then have to give the British ‘Sovereign Base Areas’ to Cyprus, thus weakening NATO’s de facto base linking the Eastern Mediterranean to the Middle East. For NATO, Turkish interests take precedence over Cypriot and Greek ones. When Moscow tested the waters by selling its S-300 system to Cyprus in 1997, the resulting Turkish threats and EU and US pressure on Cyprus not to activate the system in Cyprus, saw it transferred to Crete. Again, Turkish interests took precedence. Russia does, of course, have its red line: when a resolution on the Annan unification plan was discussed in 2004, Russia vetoed it, since the plan as a whole was essentially NATO- (and Turkey-) friendly.
Russian foreign policy is not as a rule aggressive, such as the US’s and Turkey’s. In the case of its relations with Greece, Moscow is happy to watch Greek-Turkish tensions causing problems for NATO, and influence Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East to suit its own aims of stability. In this respect, Greece is on the sidelines, now considered to be a mere tool of US policy. In contrast, Turkey has shown a measure of independence vis-à-vis the US, which Greece would not dare to countenance. This is perhaps sensing that were Turkey to snatch a Greek island, the US would simply issue a critical statement against Turkey, and do all it could to prevent a war between NATO ‘allies’ Greece and Turkey, just as occurred with the Cyprus crisis in 1974. It wishes to keep its base at Incirlik.
Then becomes now, albeit with different colours. Just as with Britain during her heyday, Greece’s relations with Russia today are predicated on the US’s keeping Russia at bay in the Eastern Mediterranean, and therefore from having positive and close relations with Greece, Russia’s natural ally in the Nineteenth Century. It would take a Greek statesman of the calibre of Kapodistrias, de Gaulle or Putin to even begin to re-establish the balance. Common religious and historical ties are not enough.
From our partner RIAC
Deciphering EU’s new investment deal with China
The perceived economic gains of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), which the 27-nation European Union recently struck with the People’s Republic of China, come at the cost of disregarding human rights, which the Western bloc is known for, amid clear and irreconcilable systemic differences.
The closing days of 2020 saw the European Union and China striking a deal known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), thereby concluding seven long years of negotiations, as per the year-end deadline. China is also the EU’s biggest trading partner after the United States, but a strategic and systemic rival too.
The European Commission, Brussels-based executive arm of the EU, primarily led the negotiations on behalf of the bloc. Germany, being the holder the EU Council Presidency and led by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s continued push, combined with Beijing’s last-minute concessions, proved instrumental in expediting the process of finalising the CAI before the end of 2020.
However, the deal will still have to wait for a formal ratification by both sides and an approval by the Strasbourg-based EU Parliament, a tougher task, before finally setting it on course to be effective in a couple of years’ time, if not by early 2022.
Better rules, level-playing field for European businesses
The EU, by this deal, aims to widen the access for European companies to lucrative Chinese markets, with billion-plus consumers, on a wide range of sectors, particularly in services such as healthcare, finance, cloud-computing and air travel, among others, that has always been restrictive to foreign players in the past.
The deal could bring in a level playing field in the conduct of European businesses in China wherein Chinese state-owned enterprises will no longer be given preferential treatment through subsidies, thereby promoting fair competition and ensuring transparency in technology transfers. Newer possibilities for the expansion European businesses in China will be opened.
The CAI also promise better rules, investment protection, and an investment dispute settlement mechanism within two years of signing, which will replace all the separate bilateral investment treaties currently signed between China and EU member states. The EU maintains that the main purpose of this new deal is to address the economic imbalance in its relations with China.
However, the most striking aspect of the CAI is that, for the first time, China commits to follow accepted standards on climate and labour aspects, even though in a vague form. And for the EU, the timing of this deal with China is significant as a way of signalling its reengagement with the world in the aftermath of a post-Brexit scenario.
At the same time, the CAI reaffirmed reciprocal access for Chinese companies into European markets, which they always had. So, the deal matters to Europe, more than it matters to China. So, the real question is the extent of compromises which European negotiators had to make to strike the deal with the Asian superpower.
The issue of forced labour in China
Many EU member countries and the US had been apprehensive about the human rights situation in the northern Xinjiang province of China where there have been evidences and investigations on the use of forced labour from the media and elsewhere, which has not been duly factored in while concluding the investment deal.
It has been alleged that in the past several years, the Chinese government has forced over a million Uighur minorities in Xinjiang to perform seasonal labour against their will and are often underpaid. But, the Chinese government has repeatedly denied such allegations.
Many European lawmakers believe that China is not interested in fully complying with international agreements after signing it and is not a responsible and trustable partner. The presence of mass detention camps in this province, as verified by satellite imagery and other documents, is also a human rights concern which the EU was not supposed to ignore, considering its historical commitments to human rights.
US concerns and strategic rivalry
The incoming Biden administration has also raised concerns about the CAI, stating that it would “welcome early consultations” with its European partners on shared concerns surrounding China’s unfair economic practices, hinting at the issue of forced labour and the deal’s lacking on the question of enforcement of human rights.
Being a security and strategic partner of the US and part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), any such deal which EU and its member countries sign with its strategic rival, China, could effectively undermine American-led efforts to counter the strategic and geopolitical threat posed by Beijing’s aggressive and expansionist policies around the world.
It also flies in the face of an incoming Biden administration which is openly committed to mend relations with allies in Europe that had been worsened under Donald Trump. Many experts in the US have felt the EU should’ve waited for a few more weeks until the Biden administration takes charge to form a co-ordinated approach, as it related to their common systemic and strategic rival, China.
Moreover, the deal comes at a time when individual EU members such as Germany and the Netherlands have recently released their own outlook on the Indo-Pacific strategy, which is perceivably aimed at containing China’s rise and to ensure balance of power in the region. Meanwhile, France’s outlook is in existence for two years now.
Way ahead for implementation
The deal has now been reached at the technical level, paving way for a final ratification. But, getting the deal through the European Parliament, which attaches far more significance to human rights concerns than the Commission and the Council, is going to be a tough task, as many European legislators are increasingly sceptical of Chinese intentions and commitments to any deal.
The coming months are going to be crucial with regard to how the European legislators will debate and take forward the deal to the next level.
Hungry for change: An open letter to European governments
In 2020, the entire world knew what it was to be hungry. Millions of people went without enough to eat, with the most desperate now facing famine. At the same time, isolation took on a new meaning, in which the lonely and most remote were deprived of human contact when they most needed it, while the many victims of Covid-19 were starved of air. For all of us, the human experience fell far short of satisfying even the most basic needs.
The pandemic has provided a taste of a future at the limits of existence, where people are bereft, governments are stymied and economies wither. But it has also fuelled an unprecedented global appetite for change to prevent this from becoming our long-term reality.
For all the obstacles and challenges we face in the weeks and months ahead, I start 2021 with a tremendous sense of optimism and hope that the growling in our stomachs and the yearning in our hearts can become the collective roar of defiance, of determination and of revolution to make this year better than last, and the future brighter than the past.
It starts with food, the most primal form of sustenance. It is food that determines the health and prospects of almost 750 million Europeans and counting. It is food that employs some 10 million in European agriculture alone and offers the promise of economic growth and development. And it is food that we have learned impacts our very ecosystems, down to the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the climate we enjoy, come rain or shine.
Even before the pandemic, 2021 was destined to be a “super-year” for food, a year in which food production, consumption and disposal finally received the requisite global attention as the UN convenes the world’s first Food Systems Summit. But with two years’ worth of progress now compressed into the next 12 months, 2021 takes on a renewed significance.
After a year of global paralysis, caused by the shock of Covid-19, we must channel our anxieties, our fear, our hunger,and most of all our energies into action, and wake up to the fact that by transforming food systems to be healthier, more sustainable and inclusive, we can recover from the pandemic and limit the impact of future crises.
The change we need will require all of us to think and act differently because every one of us has a stake and a role in functioning food systems. But now, more than ever, we must look to our national leaders to chart the path forward by uniting farmers, producers, scientists, hauliers, grocers, and consumers, listening to their difficulties and insights, and pledging to improve each aspect of the food system for the betterment of all.
Policymakers must listen to Europe’s 10 million farmers as custodians of the resources that produce our food, and align their needs and challenges with the perspectives of environmentalists and entrepreneurs, chefs and restaurant owners, doctors and nutritionists to develop national commitments.
We enter 2021 with wind in our sails. More than 50 countries have joined the European Union in engaging with the Food Systems Summit and its five priority pillars, or Action Tracks, which cut across nutrition, poverty, climate change, resilience and sustainability. And more than two dozen countries have appointed a national convenor to host a series of country-level dialogues in the months ahead, a process that will underpin the Summit and set the agenda for the Decade of Action to 2030.
But this is just the beginning. With utmost urgency, I call on all UN Member States to join this global movement for a better, more fulfilling future, starting with the transformation of food systems. I urge governments to provide the platform that opens a conversation and guides countries towards tangible, concrete change. And I encourage everyone with fire in their bellies to get involved with the Food Systems Summit process this year and start the journey of transitioning to more inclusive and sustainable food systems.
The Summit is a “People’s Summit” for everyone, and its success relies on everyone everywhere getting involved through participating in Action Track surveys, joining the online Summit Community, and signing up to become Food Systems Heroes who are committed to improving food systems in their own communities and constituencies.
Too often, we say it is time to act and make a difference, then continue as before. But it would be unforgivable if the world was allowed to forget the lessons of the pandemic in our desperation to return to normal life. All the writing on the wall suggests that our food systems need reform now. Humanity is hungry for this change. It is time to sate our appetite.
Blank Spot in EU
The historic exit of the Great Britain from the European Union sparked both opportunities and chaos alike. Whether it comes to sectors within and beyond the orders of Britain, the trade policy with Northern Ireland or the isolated position of the bloc as the pandemic continues to perforate the continent with each passing day. It took a span of 4 years and a combination of referendums, disagreements in the House of Commons, displacement of public office and relentless efforts of the diplomats to bargain and negotiate an exit deal. Despite of the celebrated trade deal in action, much of the uncertainty still looms across Europe. The economic bloc now faces an empty spot of a 28th member post UK-exit and with rilling economic desperation and the Coronavirus spiralling alike, EU seeks a promising role to displace some of the pressure buildup.
The United Kingdom, mainly London, serves as the only unarguable financial rival to the metropolis of New York. Although the financial epicentre casted no qualms over trade post Brexit and even the EU financial markets reported no apparent glitches in trade across borders now subject to custom rules and regulations, the sheer volume of the trade denominated in LIBOR projects a sinister possibility of financial turmoil in the near future. Moreover, the trade deal negotiated, hailed by either parties as a victorious bargain, does little to placate uncertainty in the financial markets which further encourages the need of a solid alliance or partnership to fill the gap and subsequent irregularities faced by the European Union.
Turkey stands as one of the aspirants seeking EU membership. Every European state enjoys the privilege to seek EU membership which is subject to yearly review. Turkey has been a lurking party to seek EU approval since 1987. The opportunities opened up in 2016 after decades of tensions over Turkey’s shady democracy and violent role in dealing with their Kurdish minority, residing on the south-eastern borders of Turkey shared with a war-torn Syria. A refugee deal was signed in 2016 between Turkey and EU to facilitate Syrian refugees amidst the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. The deal served as a defining chapter in improving bilateral relations. Despite of Turkey’s conditions in the refugee deal: demanding a $60 billion grant from EU to pivot the refugee crisis, EU subliminally promised an expedited track for Turkey’s ascension to EU membership.
However, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and arguably the most powerful political figure in the circles of Europe, always stood against and awry to Turkey’s membership in EU. The talks of Turkish membership were even stalled back in 2019 in the EU parliament and the prospects looked murky. However, as Merkel inches closer to departure from Germany’s political benches after decades of systematic control, Turkey cites the opportunity as a blessing in disguise. Coupled with Germany being at the verge of a severe recession synonymous in scale to the financial crisis of 2009, Germany’s position could actually shift in favour of Turkey ever since UK-exit baffled even the most sage minds of the continent.
The opportunities, however, are not the only blocks paving way for Turkey towards EU. Turkey shares a brutal conflict with Greece, another EU member state that has muddled the chances of Turkey in the EU for decades. Turkey has the longest continental coastline in the East Mediterranean which has been long contested with Greece over the gas reserves found profoundly in the waters of the East Mediterranean. Both countries have overlapping areas and have time and time again rejected each others claims over respective maritime borders and continental shelves. The icy relations between the duo have been hazy due to multitude of other reasons as well. Ranging from disputes over Turkish migrants crossing Greek borders to ships anchoring in the disputed regions without prior alert. The recent turmoil incited when Turkey officially declared Hagia Sophia, a museum in Istanbul and a historic remnant of Greek Orthodox Christian Cathedral, as a mosque which infuriated the Greek patriots.
Turkey’s ascension to membership might be a solution to economic disparity in the region; Turkey serving as a corridor between Europe and Asia and opening channels of economic flourish to EU like Silk Road initiative with China. The ascension could even solve the border disputes with Greece and project a solution to the energy reserves in Mediterranean, solving the divide once and for all. Even with Recab Tayyab Erdogan’s boasting position over improving relations with EU, the extent of ease in bilateral relations is still unclear. As top Turkish Diplomat’s schedule visit to Brussels in a week, and Turkey and Greece are to resume exploratory talks over territorial claims in the Mediterranean on January 25th, glimmers of astounding results are on cards in the arching diplomacy of Europe.
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