SYRIZA-US relations: Trilateral diplomacy, the Balkans, energy
Energy is the critical factor in US plans to detach the Balkan countries from the Russian energy vice
The Syriza-Independent Greeks government’s first step toward firming up relations with the US was in the field of energy, after the summer of 2015.
After the Turkish Stream experiment, it became clear then that the government was shifting its stance.
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias had extensive talks with former US Secretary of State John Kerry and the former Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources, Amos Hockstein. Suddenly, Athens staunchly supported the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which in 2020 will transport natural gas from Azerbaijan to Greece and Italy, via Turkey.
Another pillar of the strategy was the promotion of the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB), an axis that is vertical to TAP. The third part of the energy strategy was to promote a Floating Storage Regasification Unit for transiting liquefied natural gas (LNG) off of Alexandroupolis, which will also be connected with TAP. The American plan provides for liquefied shale gas, when massive exports to Europe begin.
Energy is the critical factor in US plans to detach the Balkan countries from the Russian energy vice. It is no coincidence that the most important of the Confidence-Building-Measures between Athens and Skopje was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on natural gas systems. That is a small piece of the broader FYROM issue.
The election of FYROM’s new government with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, and Defence Minister Radmila Sekerinska, favoured the promotion of intensive negotiations to resolve the Macedonia naming issue.
In the reaching of the Greece-FYROM naming accord, as US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wes Mitchell recently told the US Senate, Washington played a leading role, is part of a broader Balkan strategy, which Tsipras and Kotzias have accepted. It includes the exchange of territory between Serbia and Kosovo.
The pro-American turn of Athens highlighted today’s chasm in Greece-Russia relations.
US Ambassador to Athens Geoffrey Pyatt persistently alluded to the role of Pontic Greek-Russian businessman Ivan Savvidis in northern Greece (especially as regards the Thessaloniki Port concession), which provoked a rift in relations between Savvidis and the Greek government.
The Macedonian naming issue resulted in a chill in relations between Athens and Moscow. The Russian side was convinced that Kotzias is taking an excessively pro-American stance. The fact that Athens expelled Russian diplomats on the eve of the Nato summit appeared to confirm Greece’s attachment to Washington.
Greek ‘eyes’ in the Black Sea.
The Americans especially appreciate information from Greece on the moves of the Russians. The Russian Navy has planned and is conducting major Air Force and Navy manoeuvres with nearly 30 ships and thirty war planes. They have tied up areas from the south of Crete to the Eastern Mediterranean through the end of September.
The plan of the exercises appears to be geared toward blocking the access of third powers to the Middle East.
Undoubtedly, the Greek “eyes” will monitor the return of Russian ships to the Black Sea.
Moreover, joint exercises (“Iniochos 2018” and “Noble Diana”) have been upgraded, and the Americans recognise that Greece acts as a conduit for cooperation with crucial countries, such as Egypt.
For the second year in a row, the Greece-Egypt Air Force and Navy joint exercise “Medusa” went forward. On 6 September, the “Bright Star” exercise began in the Eastern Mediterranean, with the participation of the US, Greece, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. It had been interrupted for several years, but as of last year it is being conducted with naval, air, and land forces.
Beyond this, one has the provision of defence equipment and the decision of the Greek government tο upgrade its fleet of F-16 fighter jets.
A conceivable scenario is a cooperation that would lead to the procurement of American warships, but there is limited optimism on that score.
Some have asked why the American side has not made a move on the Skaramangas shipyard, in order to avert a Chinese bid for it.