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Cablegate: Tfgg01: Greece's Business-As-Usual with Russia

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTH #1216/01 2411751
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 281751Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2404
INFO RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0380
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 0104

C O N F I D E N T I A L ATHENS 001216

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/28/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV GG GR RS
SUBJECT: TFGG01: GREECE'S BUSINESS-AS-USUAL WITH RUSSIA
UNDERMINES STRONG NATO STATEMENTS

REF: A. ATHENS 1188
B. ATHENS 1183
C. 07 ATHENS 2375
D. SECSTATE 91894

Classified By: CHARGE D'AFFAIRES DEBORAH MCCARTHY. REASONS 1.4 (B) AND
(D).

1. (C) SUMMARY: Despite strong statements at NATO and the EU
by FM Bakoyannis supporting Georgian territorial integrity
and condemning Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and
Abkhazia as independent states, the GOG at the same time is
moving ahead with several "business-as-usual" events with
Russia, including a visit this week of a Russian defense
industry team to discuss arms purchases, the impending
Parliamentary ratification of the South Stream gas pipeline
deal with Russia, and co-sponsorship with Russia of a major
cultural event marking 180 years of Greek-Russian diplomatic
relations. Embassy will continue to press the GOG to delay
or cancel these events to avoid undercutting NATO and EU
positions. END SUMMARY.

GREECE'S EVOLVING POSITION
--------------------------

2. (C) The Georgia/Russia crisis has put Athens in a tight
spot due to its historically close ties to both countries.
Wary of alienating Moscow but spooked by Russian actions and
the international community's tough response, the GOG at
first tried to remain silent on the crisis (indeed, Prime
Minister Karamanlis has still made no public statements on
the situation). Once an EU position began to take shape,
Greece placed itself squarely behind France. At this
writing, the Greek position appears to be further evolving
into one in which they try, under the guise of playing the
role of a "bridge" between East and West, to take positions
on both sides of the issue, making tough political statements
at NATO and elsewhere on Georgia's territorial integrity,
while moving forward with "business-as-usual" on Russian
pipeline, arms deals, and cultural events.

3. (C) At the special EU Foreign Ministers' meeting and the
NATO Ministerial, FM Bakoyannis came out for the territorial
integrity of Georgia and the need for the withdrawal of
Russian troops to their pre-crisis positions. She pledged
two Greek monitors to the initial OSCE mission (the maximum
10 percent allowed by OSCE rules of the 20 total monitors),
and we were told the GOG would be willing to send the maximum
of ten to the planned expanded 100-monitor mission. Perhaps
most significantly, Bakoyannis made a statement following
Russian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as
independent states in which she expressed "regret" for
Russia's step and joined the French Presidency in
"condemning" the Russian decision. She was strongly
criticized in the Greek press by a "Russian diplomat" (in
fact, Russian Ambassador to Greece Vdovin) for using the word
"condemn," which Vdovin noted Greece had not used in the case
of Kosovo's declaration of independence.

4. (SBU) Greece also stepped forward early with humanitarian
assistance to Georgia. The GoG told A/EconCouns on August 21
that they have pledged 80,000 euro to the World Food Program
to help procure necessary food aid. According to Hellenic
Aid, the GoG was considering additional humanitarian aid, but
no decisions had yet been made yet. As reported by Embassy
Athens via unclass email to the Georgia Task Force on August
13, the GoG has already delivered one C-130 full of
humanitarian supplies, including 10-person tents (3.5 tons),
blankets (2.5-3 tons), and various medicines and medical
supplies, and 100,000 euro directly to UNHCR for IDPs in
South Ossetia.

DO ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS?
-----------------------------------

5. (C) The statements above notwithstanding, Greece is moving
forward with several ill-advised moves that contradict, if
not undermine, Greek expressions of support for Alliance
positions:

-- Greece is currently hosting the visit of Russian technical
advisors to discuss Greek purchase of 450 Russian-made
armored personnel carriers (BMPs) -- part of the pipeline and
arms deal signed by Putin and Karamanlis last December (ref
C). Greek officials told us the Russian team would meet only
with "private" Greek defense firms and there would be no
official Greek participation. We believe, however, that the
Russian team is likely to meet Greek MOD officials and that
Greek officials will participate in the Russians' meetings
with defense firms.

-- The Greek Parliament is moving forward (probably in the
next week) with its previously scheduled ratification of the
South Stream gas pipeline deal. On August 28, the Parliament
Committeeon Commerce and Production approved the
ratifiation and sent it to the full Parliament. In a
statement the same day before the Parliament Foreign and
Defense Committee, FM Bakoyannis said Greece would "honor any
commitments it rokered before the Georgia crisis," while
Deveopment Minister Folias stressed to the Commerce and
Production Committee the "geopolitical importance" of South
Stream and Greece's role as a "bridge" linking Eastern
producers and Western consumers.

-- On August 28, Russian Ambassador Vdovin gave a
well-received press confrence announcing that the "Moscow
Virtuosi" msical tour of Europe would begin in Athens onSeptember 5 at the Herodion theater next to the Acropolis.
The event would take place under the auspices of the Greek
Ministry of Culture and the Greek Parliament and was designed
to mark 180 years of diplomatic relations between Russia and
Greece.

EMBASSY PUSHES BACK
-------------------

6. (C) Embassy delivered ref D points on Russia's recognition
of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states to MFA
S ecretary General Agathocles and to MFA A5 Directorate for
CIS Countries Counsellor Elisabeth Fotiadou. In addition,
the Embassy has worked hard to convince the GOG not to
continue "business-as-usual" with the Russians by moving
forward with the BMP visit, the ratification of South Stream,
and the cultural event. We raised the issue with PM
diplomatic advisor Bitsios, MFA SecGen Agathocles, Bakoyannis
advisor Haris Lalacos, the CIS Desk at the MFA, the Hellenic
General Staff, the Ministry of Development, the Parliament
leadership, and other Greek government agencies, as well as
with numerous other diplomatic missions, including the
British, French, Canadian, Polish, Finnish, Hungarian,
Latvian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Slovenian, and Estonian
missions. Our diplomatic colleagues all promised to report
the information to their capitals.

7. (C) We have heard a generally uniform response from GOG
officials. They argue that the Georgia/Russia crisis and
such developments as the Parliament's impending ratification
of the South Stream pipeline are "not connected in any way,"
and that the latter was scheduled well in advance and should
be seen as "routine." We counter that these events are very
closely connected, that "business-as-usual" at this point
serves to legitimize Russia's actions, and that moving
forward with these events contradicts, if not undermines,
Greece's stated agreement with Alliance and EU positions.

8. (C) The South Stream ratification received Committee
approval on August 28, but approval by the full Parliament
has not yet taken place (we expect it very shortly). Thus,
we may still have a window of opportunity to convince the
Greeks to delay. We will continue to press them and to urge
our diplomatic colleagues to do the same. We will also look
for opportunities to urge PM Karamanlis to break his silence
and to come out in favor of Alliance positions.
MCCARTHY

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