Greeks may be voting on austerity but their choice will usher in a new phase in Hellenism’s turbulent history.
Ever since the formation of a coalition government in Greece between the radical leftist Syriza party and the far-right Independent Greeks party (ANEL), many Western leaders and a sizable portion of media representatives have been pandering to fears that Europe could lose Greece to Russia.
This situation has gotten a lot worse lately as a result of the deadlock in negotiations between Greece and its official creditors, with the Greek side walking away from the negotiation table last week and prolonging the political uncertainty by calling for a referendum to be held on July 5, thereby raising the stakes and increasing the prospect of a Grexit.
However, fears of a Russia-Greece axis are not only groundless and absurd, displaying limitless ignorance of Greek politics and deep or conscious simplicity regarding history, geopolitics and diplomacy, but damaging to Greece’s image and efforts to pursue its own national interests as it sees fit.
Political fears of an over-imagined Russia-Greece axis are also consistent with Western efforts to keep Russia isolated in the international arena.
As far as Greece is concerned, the country has never been allowed in the course of its modern history to determine its own future.
Following World War II, and just like with the countries that fell under Soviet influence and control, the Greek people were never offered the option of choosing their system of government and their political destiny freely.
Greece was incorporated into the Western bloc of nations, with Joseph Stalin’s consent and approval, in spite of the fact that, when the war ends, the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), which grew out of the National Liberation Front communist-sponsored resistance organisation, had the overwhelming majority of the Greek population behind it and controlled over two-thirds of the country.
The US and its allies made sure that Greece remained in the Western bloc by using savage political and military methods to do so, including providing financial and military support to right-wing and fascist forces opposing the communists and all democratically minded groups.
Syriza’s overtures towards Russia did not represent a turning point in contemporary Greek politics, as virtually all previous Greek governments sought to have good economic relations with Moscow.
In the late 1950s, when the Greek left had recovered after more than 15 years of brutal persecution and scored impressive gains (over 24 percent) in the elections of 1958, a new round of political sabotage got under way by the CIA and the US government in order to undermine its growing power.
US post-war intervention in Greek politics culminated in the establishment of a military junta in April 1967, a coup that sought to prevent Greece’s further slide to the left and the apparent consequences that such a potential development might have had for US and Western interests in the region.
Ironically enough, history does seem to repeat itself, although with new twists and updated touches.
Following Syriza’s election victory earlier this year and the government’s expressed interest in strengthening Greek-Russian relations (as well as relations with China) in an apparent effort to find some way to boost the Greek economy which has been in a free fall for the last five years, Western leaders and media pundits begun to speak of Syriza’s dangerous foreign policy pursuits.
So much for the rights of small nations to pursue their own national interests even in the post-Cold War era. So much also for the freedom of people to choose their own government without worrying that their elected leaders will be sabotaged from foreign and stronger political forces.
But who is kidding whom? National self-determination and democracy are just empty words in Western political and diplomatic culture.
Nonetheless, Syriza’s overtures towards Russia did not represent a turning point in contemporary Greek politics, as virtually all previous Greek governments sought to have good economic relations with Moscow, and surely was not some kind of an overarching strategy aiming to create a Russia-Greece axis in order to undermine Europe.
No Greek elected prime minister would even dare to think along those lines simply because such an undertaking is impossible given the geopolitical situation in which Greece finds itself in: A full member of the European Union and the eurozone, a member of NATO and a close ally of the US. The risks of such an undertaking would be humongous even if Greece left the euro!
Hence why did the new Greek government express its disagreement with EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, but did not dare to take the next step, which would have been was to carry out the threat of a Greek veto?
Hence also why even enhancing military and regional security cooperation with Russia, something which the current government expressed an interest in doing a couple of months after it came to power, should not be seen as Greece turning away from Europe, NATO and the US.
The messages coming out of Moscow the last few days add further weight to the argument that Russia wants no part in what’s happening in Greece.
However, for some, the fears of a Russia-Greece axis are real, and they draw support for their reasoning from the late Samuel Huntington’s controversial thesis on “the clash of civilisations”, which asserts that orthodoxy places Greece in Russia’s camp.
There is no space here to dwell into the “clash of civilisations thesis”, but the mere fact that the current Greek prime minister is a declared atheist should suffice to throw the ludicrous idea of a Russian-Greek orthodox axis straight to the wastebasket.
Russia is also fully aware of how far its relations with Greece can go.
Moscow has no interest in “bailing out” bankrupt Greece even if it could, for such an action would constitute direct interference in a region of the world outside its own sphere of influence, thereby raising the prospect of nasty retaliations against it by Western powers.
Vladimir Putin’s advice to the leftist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been clear and consistent all along: Find a solution to the debt problem with Europe, reach an agreement with the “troika” about the bailout plan.
The messages coming out of Moscow the last few days add further weight to the argument that Russia wants no part in what’s happening in Greece. As reported in the Moscow Times, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that “finding a solution to Greece’s debt crisis is not a matter for Russia but for Athens and its creditors”.
Indeed, unlike the US and other Western powers, Russia knows and respects geopolitical boundaries, never interfering in developments taking place in areas of the world which do not have a bearing on its own security concerns.
Russia has never posed a threat to a Western country. In contrast, NATO and the West have been engaged in the military encirclement of Russia since the end of the Cold War.
In sum, political fears over a Russia-Greece axis should be seen for what they really are: part of a continuous strategy on the part of the US and its allies to keep Russia as isolated as possible and weak nations like Greece permanently in a state of dependence.
C J Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked for many years in universities and research centres in Europe and the United States.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.