Greece’s Initiative to Lead in the Western Balkans

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On 21 of August in 2022, Prime Minister of Greek, Kiriakos Mitsotakis announced that he has organized an informal summit in Athens because of the 20th anniversary of the Thessaloniki Declaration, the European Union (EU) strategy for the Western Balkans.[1] President of the European Union (EU) Commission Ursula von der Leyen, President of European Council Charles Michel,  President of Serbian Aleksander Vucic, President of Moldovan Maia Sandu, President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelenski, President of Montenegro Jakov Milatovic, Prime Minister of Romania Ion-Marcel Ciolacu, Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti, Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina Borjana Kristo, Prime Minister of North Macedonia Dimitar Kovachevski, Prime Minister of Bulgaria Nikolai Denkov and Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenkovic attended the summit. Following the meeting, the heads of the government issued a collective declaration.[2]

In this declaration, it was emphasized that the Western Balkans which are neighbors of the EU Member States, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova have a common European heritage, history, opportunities, challenges and future, and it was indicated that steps should be taken to complete the membership process. In fact, it was set as the goal that the future of the Western Balkans lies in the EU at the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003.[3]

It is understood from the meeting held in Athens that there hasn’t been any change in the position of the Western Balkan countries except for Croatia’s membership to the EU in the past 20 years. However, the striking point at this meeting was that Prime Minister of Albanian, Edi Rama, whose relations with Greece became tense as a result of the arrest of ethnic Greek separatist leader Fredi Beleri because of allegedly that buying votes in the local elections held in May, was not invited.[4] Moreover, the Eastern European countries that Moldova and Ukraine participated in the meeting where the Western Balkan country Albania wasn’t attend. This turned the meeting into an EU Enlargement Summit rather than the Western Balkans Summit.

Moldova and Ukraine have been two countries that consider importance to the improvement of relations with the West, against the Russian threat. After the Russia-Ukraine War, both of them obtained the status of candidate countries to the EU. Despite Russia’s objections, Greece has been one of the EU member states willing to consider Moldova and Ukraine within the scope of EU enlargement. However, since the 19th century, Greece has made a historical and cultural partnership with Russia on the basis of their Orthodox identity. This partnership has also moved to the military and economic area. However, with the coming to power of Prime Minister Mitsotakis, Greece started to implement a foreign policy inclined for the United States of America (USA).

With the start of the Russia-Ukraine War, Greece strengthened its connection with its Western allies. This rapprochement caused a complete break in the relations between Greece and Russia. Because, from the first day of the Russia-Ukraine War, it has sided with Ukraine together with the Western Bloc; supported Ukraine against Russia in diplomatic and military area. It has also been shown on almost every platform that Greece has adopted an anti-Russian position. Then, the Russia-Ukraine War took a large place at the unofficial summit held in Athens upon the invitation of Greece.

The unofficial summit held in Athens upon the invitation of Greece also extensively addressed the Russia-Ukraine War. In the first article of the outcome declaration of the meeting, it was stated that the Russia-Ukraine War was a very important moment that created a new awareness of common principles, unity and common future within the EU. In its second article, the leaders of the countries participating in the summit stated that they support Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity based on the values of democracy and rule of law within its internationally recognized borders against Russia’s aggression. In the third article, it is emphasized that the peace formula of President of Ukrainian, Vladimir Zelensky is supported and appreciated.

The fact that Serbia was among the countries that ratified the declaration, which had articles against Russia, was another remarkable aspect of the summit. As it is known, Serbia and Greece are described as two sister countries with Slavic-Orthodox bonds. This cultural and historical affinity hasn’t changed even in the Russia-Ukraine War, which is expressed as the “war of democracies against autocracies”.

Russia continued to support Serbia economically and politically, which had problems with Europe due to the Kosovo Issue.Serbia didn’t participate in the EU sanctions against Russia due to the Russia-Ukraine War. On the contrary, trade and energy relations between Russia and Serbia have strengthened.[5] In this context, Serbia has been the main actor in shaping Russia’s Balkan policy today, as it has been in the past. However, the fact that Serbia is among the countries that agreed on an anti-Russian text and moreover, the happening of the Zelensky-Vucic bilateral meeting in Athens is considered as another crack in the Orthodox Bloc for Russia.[6]  This impression can be considered as the success of Prime Minister of Greek, Mitsotakis.

Apart from Serbia’s participation in the Athens Summit, it is known that Prime Minister Mitsotakis implemented an active foreign policy by turning the conjuncture caused by the Russia-Ukraine War into an opportunity. For example, Alexandroupolis Port, located in the North East of Greece and out of use, has become a central base for the transport of military equipment to Eastern Europe. [7] Likewise, an LNG terminal is being built in the same port to meet the energy needs of Europe. [8] Compared to its regional opponents, Greece is a member of both the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in order to implement such policies, it is effective to be approved by European countries and the USA.

 With this support from global powers, it is easier for Mitsotakis to create a strong image of Greece in the geography where he is located. Mitsotakis, who wanted to evaluate such an atmosphere, invited Moldova and Ukraine along with the Western Balkan countries and organized an informal meeting in Athens and invited countries also participated in the meeting. With the meeting held in Athens, Greece took a step towards the leadership it wanted to undertake in the Western Balkans. Likewise, Mitsotakis stated that “Greece aims to act as a bridge between the EU and the Balkans and even Eastern European countries.” [9] The participation of the EU Commission and Council President in the Athens Summit demonstrates the EU’s support for Greece’s initiative to become a leader in the Western Balkans. Because, while the domain of influence of the USA and the EU expands in the Balkans, which was also designed under the patronage of Greece; it is inevitable that the presence of Russia and other regional powers will decrease.

As a result, Greece, which started to strengthen its position in the Western Alliance with the Russia-Ukraine War, wants to become an important actor in the geostrategic context by increasing its effectiveness in the Balkans. Inviting Moldova and Ukraine, which are Eastern European countries apart from the Western Balkan countries to the summit held in Athens because of the 20th Anniversary of the Thessaloniki Summit, in other words, referring to the war environment; it shows that Greece is trying to turn the crisis environment caused by the Russia-Ukraine War into an opportunity in Western Balkan politics. Considering that this initiative is supported by the EU and the USA, the rapprochement of Greece with the Western Balkan countries can be considered as a development that will limit the political maneuverability of other regional powers that have close historical, cultural and economic ties with the Balkan countries.

[1] “Miçotakis, Balkan Ülkelerinin Liderlerini Gayri Resmi Akşam Yemeğinde Ağırlayacak”, Dünya Gazatesi,, (Date of Accession: 23.08.2023).

[2] “Athens Summit Declaration”, The Prime Minister of the Greece,, (Date of Accession: 23.08.2023).

[3]“Eu-Western Balkans Summit Thessaloniki, 21 June 2003”, European Commission,, (Date of Accession: 23.08.2023).

[4] Ahmet Gençtürk, “Greece Threatens To Block Albania’s EU Bid Over Detention Of Ethnic Greek Politician”, Anadolu Agency,, (Date of Accession: 23.08.2023).

[5] Vladimir Spasić, “Putin, Vučić Agree On New Gas Supply Contract For Serbia”, Balkan Green Energy News,, (Date of Accession: 23.08.2023).

[6] “Ukrainian And Serbian Presidents Hold ‘Good’ And ‘Open’ Talks”, Reuters,, (Date of Accession: 24.08.2023).

[7] “Sleepy Greek Port Becomes U.S. Arms Hub, as Ukraine War Reshapes”, The Newyork Times,, (Date of Accession: 24.08.2023).

[8] “Remarks By President Charles Michel At The Inauguration Of The Floating Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal in Alexandroupolis”, Council of European Union,, (Date of Accession: 24.08.2023).

[9] “Greece Seeking To Serve As Bridge To EU”, Ekathimerini,, (Date of Accession: 23.08.2023).

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