What has Russia ever done for Greece?

A common religion may not be enough to stem the deterioration of relations between Greece and Russia. Credit: Twitter/Russian Embassy in Athens

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reignited the debate in Greece over the historic relationship between the two nations that share a common religion.

The destruction of towns and villages in eastern Ukraine, particularly Mariupol where tens of thousands of ethnic Greeks live, has led many Greeks to rethink and reassess these relations.

Greece and Russia have “strong historical ties of friendship based on shared spiritual and cultural values”, notes the Foreign Ministry in Athens on its website. But what exactly was the role of Russia and the Soviet Union in modern Greek history?

Russia and the Greek Revolution of 1821

The Greek War of Independence was engineered in Russia. Russia has long been hostile to the Ottoman Empire, and its support for smaller revolts – some Greek, some among other Balkan communities – on Ottoman territory has only heightened tensions between the two. powers during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The insurrection got carried away with the foundation in Odessa, in modern Ukraine, of a clandestine organization named Filiki Eteria (Friendly Society) in September 1814, whose goal was the independence of Greece with the support of Russia. .

Grecian Delight supports Greece

One of its notable early members was Alexandros Ypsilantis, a prince and high-ranking officer of the Russian Imperial Cavalry.

Ypsilantis issued a declaration on October 8, 1820, announcing a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. He went on to say that the Greeks did not need foreign help as they could defeat the Turks on their own before going on to say that Russian support was assured.

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Alexandros Ypsilantis crosses the Pruth, by Peter von Hess, Benaki Museum, Athens. Public domain

He started the revolt in the spring of 1821 in the Danubian Principalities. During his march into Moldavia and Wallachia, Ypsilantis relied on Russia for support, but Alexander I not only refused to help but also condemned the revolt and dismissed Ypsilantis from his army.

The Ottomans massacred the Sacred Band, a force mostly made up of volunteers and students from the Greek communities of Moldavia, Wallachia and Odessa.

Diplomatic and ideological issues regarding the European balance of power and the preservation of peace on the continent after the fall of Napoleon made Russia very reluctant to support the revolutionary activity of the Greeks.

This international political climate prevented the Russian government from taking formal action despite the ties between the Greek and Russian communities.

Kapodistrias and Moscow

Ioannis Kapodistrias, who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire, was Greece’s first head of state.

Kapodistrias became increasingly active in favor of Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire but failed to gain Alexander’s support for the Greek Revolution of 1821.

This put Kapodistrias in an untenable position and in 1822 he took an extended leave from his post as Foreign Minister and retired to Geneva where he applied himself to supporting the Greek revolution by organizing material and moral support.

On March 30, 1827, the National Assembly of Trizina elected him governor of the new Greek state. After arduous consultations in the European capitals to ensure the necessary support for the Greek State, he arrived in Nafplion on January 7, 1828 and was welcomed there with enthusiasm and rejoicing.

As one of Europe’s most distinguished politicians and diplomats, he championed the recognition of Greece’s sovereignty by the major powers and worked tirelessly to lay the foundations for the fledgling republic.

Russia and the Battle of Navarino

Russia played a decisive role in the Battle of Navarino, a naval battle fought on October 20, 1827, during the Greek War of Independence. Allied forces from Britain, France and Russia decisively defeated the Ottoman and Egyptian forces trying to suppress the Greeks, thus making Greek independence much more likely.

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Russians at the Naval Battle of Navarino. Public domain

The sinking of the Mediterranean fleet of the Ottomans saved the young Greek Republic from collapse. But it took two more Russian military interventions, in the form of the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829 and by a French expeditionary force, in the Peloponnese to force the withdrawal of Ottoman forces from central and southern Greece. , to finally secure Greece. independence.

Russia and the Asia Minor Catastrophe

A century later, Soviet Russia and Kemalist Turkey were temporarily united in the struggle against a common enemy: the Greeks and Armenians who were supported by Western powers.

Valuable Russian assistance to Kemal was a key factor in the disaster in Asia Minor suffered by Greece. It was a cataclysmic event of such significance to modern Greek history that it shaped generation after generation after 1922, adding yet another unforgettable – and unspeakably tragic – milestone to Greece’s long history.

On April 26, 1920, Mustafa Kemal formally approached Vladimir Lenin with a proposal for mutual recognition and a request for military assistance. The Bolsheviks responded positively.

According to Russia beyond, in the period from 1920 to 1922, Soviet Russia sent Atatürk almost 80 million lire (twice the expenditure of the Ministry of Defense of the country), supplied 39,000 rifles, 327 machine guns, 147,000 shells, machinery and raw materials for the production of cartridges, plus two destroyers, Zhivoy (Alive) and Zhutky (Terrible). Under the guidance of Soviet experts, two gunpowder factories were built in Turkey.

Russian military aid played a key role in enabling Atatürk’s troops to defeat their two main adversaries: the Democratic Republic of Armenia to the east and the Greek army to the west.

A group of Soviet military experts under the leadership of one of the most prominent commanders of the Red Army, Mikhail Frunze, took part in the victorious offensive against the Greeks. Aralov, who also had extensive combat experience, shared his knowledge of guerrilla warfare with Atatürk’s officers. At one time, even the future Marshal of the Soviet Union Kliment Voroshilov served as an adviser to Kemal, Russia beyond Remarks.

Russia and the Civil War in Greece

The role of Moscow and Stalin in the tragic Greek civil war that took place between 1943 and 1949 was decisive. Despite concluding the Yalta Agreement with the United States and Britain which specified that Greece would belong to the West, Stalin allowed and encouraged the outbreak of civil war.

The Yalta Accord, which remained secret until the 1960s and was fully respected by the three powers, had made the civil war an unnecessary disaster.

Not only did Russia not help its communist allies in Greece, but it let the tragedy unfold. The Civil War left Greece in ruins and in even greater economic distress than it had been after the end of the German occupation.

Moreover, he divided the Greek people for the decades that followed, with both sides vilifying their opponents.

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Makronisos military prison camp opened during the civil war for communists or leftist sympathizers. Public domain

Thousands of people languished in prison for many years or were sent into internal exile on the islands of Gyaros and Makronisos. Many others sought refuge in communist countries or emigrated to Australia, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and elsewhere.

Russian-Greek relations today

Recently, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned Greece that relations between the two nations which “share the same faith” have been “reduced to almost nothing”.

Maria Zakharova, director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, warned in a statement posted on social networks that the “historical parallels” between Greece and Russia risk becoming “a solid double line between us.”

Greece joined its EU and NATO allies in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and sent military and humanitarian aid to Kyiv.

Relations reached a nadir when Greece expelled 12 Russian diplomats in early April.

But recent opinion polls show that more than one in two Greeks do not support government policy. While refugees from Ukraine are welcomed with open arms in Greece, many Greeks reject EU measures against Russia. According to a poll, more than 60% are resolutely opposed to arms deliveries – they see the guilt of war in Moscow and kyiv.

Greece is also concerned about the close ties between Turkey and Russia. Moscow has supplied Ankara with weapons, including the controversial S400 missile system, and funded a Turkish-built nuclear power plant.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have remotely inaugurated the construction of a third nuclear reactor at the Akkuyu power plant in southern Turkey in 2021.

Erdogan said the power plant would launch Turkey into the “league of nuclear-powered countries” and called it a “symbol of Turkish-Russian cooperation”.

Russia is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant on the Mediterranean coast in Mersin province. The two countries signed a cooperation agreement in 2010 and began construction in 2018.

Common Faith Greece-Russia, Divided Church

Both Greece and Russia are Orthodox nations. Their common faith has helped cultural, political and economic relations throughout history.

Saints Cyril and Methodius, brothers born in Thessalonica, were responsible for establishing Greek Orthodoxy in Russia and Ukraine.

However, the position of the Russian Church on the invasion of Ukraine alienated many Greeks. Recently, Archbishop Elpidophoros of America criticized the Russian Orthodox Church for supporting the invasion of Ukraine, pointing to its leader Patriarch Kirill.

“The responsibility lies entirely with the leadership of the Russian Church and clearly with Patriarch Kirill,” Elpidophoros said.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow supported the war, which he said in a sermon was a struggle to defend “human civilization” against the “sin” of “gay-pride parades”.

The schism between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople began on October 15, 2018 when the former unilaterally broke full communion with the latter.

The resolution was made in response to a decision of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on October 11, 2018, confirming its intentions to grant autocephaly (independence) to the Eastern Orthodox Church in Ukraine.


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