Over the last year, Greece has engaged in close defence cooperation with Western and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states such as the United States (US), France and Germany. With the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian War, Greece’s political and geographical position led Athens to indirectly provide assistance to Ukraine in this war.
As it is known, many NATO countries provided arms and military equipment to the Kyiv administration during the Russian-Ukrainian War. Greece has also been among the prominent countries with its aid during the 11-month period. Immediately after the start of the war, on February 27, 2022, Athens provided military support to Ukraine with 20,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 815 RPG-18 disposable rocket launchers and an undisclosed number of 122 mm unguided rockets. Following this support, the Greek Ministry of Defense stated that no further military aid would be sent to Ukraine due to the country’s own defence requirements.
Moreover, the statement was not limited to this. In September 2022, Greece, which allocates a large share to military expenditures, signed a defence agreement with Germany, and in this context, Athens delivered 40 old Soviet-made BMP-1 IFV tanks to Ukraine in October of the same year in exchange for Marder 1A3 tanks from Germany.
Later, there were reports in the Greek media suggesting that the Athens administration would give Ukraine the Russian-made S-300 air defence system in exchange for the Patriot air defence systems it will receive from the US in December 2022. On December 16, 2022, Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos expressed this proposal with the following words:
“If the US installs a Patriot system on the island of Crete and integrates it with the national air defence system, the S-300s could be removed. The same process applies to other Russian air defence systems they might want to send to Ukraine.”
This statement caused the Athens administration to be in a dilemma between the US and Russia. Because Russia was disturbed by these statements. The US, on the other hand, put pressure on Athens and stated that it was important for Greece to give the S-300s to Ukraine even if the Patriots were not delivered to Greece.
The first reaction from Moscow to Greece was given by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zaharova. In the statement, Zaharova said:
“We consider the provocative plans to deliver the S-300s and other air defence systems made in Russia/the Soviet Union to the Kyiv administration to be a blatantly aggressive move against Russia.”
As it can be understood, Zaharova warned Greece to abandon the decision. Therefore, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson made the following statement:
“Violation of contractual obligations will inevitably lead to a significant weakening of Greece’s air defence capabilities, with additional consequences.”
With the above-mentioned words, Zakharova is referring to the contract between Russia and Greece for the transfer of S-300s, which was later mentioned by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. According to the contract, Greece cannot transfer the S-300s to a third party without Russia’s consent. Moreover, it can be argued that Moscow is threatening Athens, although what is meant by the phrase “additional consequences” is not explained in detail.
On December 19, 2022, following Zakharova’s statement, Lavrov made a statement following the news in the media that Greece had transferred the S-300s to Ukraine. On January 28, 2022, Lavrov reiterated that Greece has no right to transfer these systems to anyone without Russia’s consent and stated that the Greeks had given them a commitment in this regard.
Following warnings from the Min,stry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, the Athens administration was forced to back down. Panagiotopoulos denied the allegations in the media and emphasized that Greece had not received any official proposal from the US.
Undoubtedly, Athens’ assertive moves and outbursts regarding the Russia-Ukraine War are based on the support of the US. In recent years, the US has provided Greece with significant military assistance, arming the Alexandroupoli base and conducting numerous military exercises in the Aegean and Mediterranean with other allies. Based on this military cooperation, Greece, which aims both to modernize its own army and to contribute to Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian War, is actually trying to strengthen its position within NATO.
Although Russia kept silent about Greece’s moves until a certain stage, it did not ignore the S-300 issue. The main reason for this is the possibility that other countries to which Russia sells S-300s might take similar steps in support of Ukraine if Russia remains silent on this move by Greece.
In addition, Greece’s backtracking should also be interpreted. First of all, it should be noted that there is no guarantee of full support from the US to Greece on this issue. In fact, when asked about the issue, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price made the following statement:
“We value and always respect the countries involved for any contribution they make or can make to Ukraine’s self-defense. We are acutely aware of the deep threat Ukraine faces from the air and this is known to our NATO allies, including Greece.”
Secondly, the energy factor can be mentioned. Because Greece’s energy exchange with Russia has not yet ended. Therefore, Moscow could have responded to Athens by cutting its energy lines. Although Athens tried to find alternative suppliers, such a development could have posed a threat to Greece’s economy and energy security. It can be stated that Athens did not want to take this risk.
Moreover, if Greece transfers S-300 air defence systems to Ukraine, Russia could make a move against Greece’s closest ally, the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus (GCASC). As it is known, before the Russia-Ukraine War, there was military, political and economic relations between Russia and the GCASC and thus Russia had some influence over the GCASC. This is also the reason why the GCASC did not actively provide assistance to Ukraine like its ally Greece in the Ukraine War and did not participate in all the sanctions imposed by the EU. Therefore, in this scenario, it could have been foreseen that Russia would use its influence in the GCASC to launch an economic offensive, to put it mildly.
As a result, Greece, thanks to its Western allies, both modernized militarily and provided assistance to Ukraine by transferring its technologically obsolete weapons to Ukraine, thereby strengthening its position within NATO. Following the exchange agreement signed with Germany, it was suggested that a similar military exchange could be realized with the US, but the Russian Foreign Ministry reminded the agreements signed between Athens and Moscow; and “threatened” Greece. The Athens administration, which could not get the support it wanted from the US, had to back down on this issue.
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 Βίκυ Σαμαρά, “Νέες πιέσεις και αμηχανία για τους S-300”, News 247, https://www.news247.gr/politiki/nees-pieseis-kai-amichania-gia-toys-s-300.9878269.html, (Date of Accession: 02.01.2023).