As they sign a gas pipeline deal, should Europe fear closer links between Greece and Russia?

Alexis Tsipras and Vladimir Putin at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (Source: Getty)

John Lough, associate fellow in Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia programme, says Yes.

Russia wants to build the gas pipeline to reduce its dependency on gas transit through Ukraine – around 50 per cent of its gas exports to Europe pass through Ukraine. Greece is assisting Russia in its endeavour, and contributing to weakening Ukraine’s crucial factor of leverage in its relations with Russia.

Desperate to tap external sources of credit, Athens is playing into Moscow’s hands. Russia is making strenuous efforts to undermine unity within the EU and Nato on policy towards Russia. So far, the Greeks have not broken ranks with other EU partners on the need to maintain economic sanctions against Russia.

But the Russians clearly see Greece as a weak link and are trying to exploit its disastrous economic situation. Unity within the EU and between the US and the EU is essential if western countries are to face down Russia’s efforts to subvert the European security system developed at the end of the Cold War.

Emily Stromquist, an energy analyst at Eurasia Group, says No.

Russia and Greece cannot singlehandedly agree on a gas pipeline deal with considerable potential to alter the European gas import landscape. There are nuances to this deal that render it little more than political noise at this point.

Russia can agree to finance the pipeline, and can even start construction, but in order to send actual volumes of gas through the pipeline from the Turkish-Greek border and into Europe at some future date, Russia still needs EU regulatory approval. And here, it’s likely to encounter the same scepticism in Brussels that resulted in the cancellation of the South Stream project in 2014.

Russia wants non-Ukraine pipeline routes to Europe and Greece is leveraging this to play the field, establish (slightly) deeper ties with Russia, and simply keep its options open. While the political optics are magnified at this time, given both the Ukraine crisis and the Greek bailout talks, the prospect of a substantially more robust Russia-Greece relationship is limited.

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