In the previous articles of the series ‘Putin’s Russia: Kremlin’s Goals and Tools’, I analysed the theory and practice of Russia’s foreign policy and drew attention to the fact that Russia still uses the ammunition of USSR KGB – disinformation, influence agents, scandals (e.g., Edward Snowden's story) and criminal activity: corruption, criminal world, drug trafficking and terrorism. So I will now move on to the cases of three countries and their policies – that, I believe, will be a perfect illustration of Kremlin’s capabilities.
Vladimir Putin and Greek PM Alexis Tsipras
© Reuters/Scanpix

First, let’s go back to Greece which is a really important card in the agenda of Russia’s special services, and not for the first time. As I have already mentioned, even the most experienced US analysts claim that US’s insufficient attention to this problem also poses threat to America’s national security. Russia’s flirt with Greece (that is balancing on the verge on bankruptcy) is often said to be based on the famous divide and conquer principle which Putin’s Russia, as well as USSR, constantly employs.

But Greece already had the Prime Minister, who did not condemn Kremlin’s aggression (USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979) or shooting down of passenger airplane (in 1983 Korean Air Lines flight 007 from New York to Seoul flew into Russian airspace due to a navigational error and was shot down by Soviet fighter jets in Sakhalin Island. Moscow later claimed that the aircraft was on a spy mission).

This Prime Minister heavily criticised the US, threatened to withdraw from NATO, and openly opposed the sanctions for trying to suppress the revolution initiated by Polish Solidarity movement. Among his closest partners were Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi (Libya was already on US List of State Sponsors of Terrorism), and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The name of this Greek prime minister was Andreas Papandreou. He served two terms: from 1981 to 1989 and from 1993 to 1996. However, his fragile health kept him from exercising firm political leadership during the second term.

George Papandreou
George Papandreou
© Reuters/Scanpix

These eloquent parallels between Papandreou and the current Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (whose government is now openly called Russia’s Trojan horse in EU and NATO) were widely discussed in Greece itself but not so much in the EU (including Lithuania). However, even when these discussion are taking place, some things that were publicly announced during Papandreou’s terms remain overlooked.

When a longtime KGB agent Arne Treholt was arrested in Norway in 1983, it turned out that this high-ranking Norwegian officer not only revealed the secrets of his country and NATO to USSR. Well before Papandreou became a prime minister, he was already friends with Treholt. It was argued that it was Treholt who (back in the times of Greek military junta) convinced Papandreou that he knew about NATO’s secret plans to maintain this military dictatorship indefinitely, and that, in turn, formed Papandreou’s long-standing hostility towards NATO and the United States.

The relationship between Papandreou and Treholt remained close until Treholt’s arrest.

There is also enough information about the fundamental influence that USSR KGB and GRU had on Papandreou’s government and its policies, and it is widely known in the region thanks to two renegades - Sergei Bokhan, former deputy director of GRU operations in Greece, and Viktor Gundarev, former deputy head of KGB mission in Athens.

But the biggest attention should be drawn to the statement from the book ‘Comrade Kryuchkov‘s Instructions – Top Secret Files on KGB Foreign operations. 1975-1985’.

This book was written by another renegade and a former head of KGB operations in London - Oleg Gordievski - along with British historian Christopher Andrew, who at one point had the exclusive access to the so-called Mitrokhin Archive.

The book states that ‘in the mid-eighties Centre’s illusions about Papandreou were shattered - he started to be seen as a careerist and bourgeois nationalist whose goal, despite the anti-American rhetorics, was not to withdraw Greece from NATO but to secure higher rental price for US military bases in the country’. So, it becomes clear that KGB’s main goal was not only to weaken NATO, but to eventually destroy it. However, Papandreou did not fulfill these hopes after all.

No need for secret agents anymore?

Now Russia that is seeking similar objectives does not even need secret agents. Ties in Greece (as well as many other European and non-European countries) are being openly built by such figures as Alexander Dugin, his friend Konstantin Malofeev (oligarch who contributed a lot to the war in Ukraine) and even Russia’s Institute for Strategic Studies which was founded by Russian foreign intelligence and has long been a part of intelligence structures.

I have already written that Dugin is not only the main ideologist of Russian fascism but also closely related to Russian military intelligence GRU and certain related clans.

At the end of 2014 internet hackers from the ‘Cold Bolt’ unit of Russian group ‘Anonymous International’ published the e-mail archive of Georgij Gavrish, a former employee at Russian embassy in Greece and an old comrade of Dugin. These e-mails show how Russian representatives are recruiting agents in various countries these days.

But in the meantime, let’s stick to Greece. It turned out that Gavrish is a kind of a messenger for Dugin, and is looking for Kremlin’s influence agents.

While working in Russia’s embassy in Greece he established close bonds with both ‘Syriza’ and its coalition partner ‘Independent Greeks’. German newspaper ‘Die Zeit’ claims that Gavrish also tried to search for potential collaborators in Greece’s neo-Nazi party ‘Golden Dawn’, but so far Moscow has not needed its service. One piece of his leaked correspondence clearly indicates that Dugin included Tsipras in the list of people from various countries who should create the ‘elite club’ of Russia’s influence agents.

By the way, there were only three representatives from Greece on this initial list, although other countries had much more people on it. But Tsipras made the list from the very start.

Big fat Greek wedding

Even more interesting is the list (leaked from the same correspondence) of ninety Greeks, which was called ‘Big Fat Greek Wedding’ by Christo Grozev, a blogger who covers topics related to Russia’s influence in Europe.

It is called after the famous movie for one reason - people on this list are guests of one particular wedding party. While Malofeev is subject of EU sanctions, he was not able to come to Greece to be the best man at a friend’s wedding.

Solution was simple - the celebration was moved to Russia with Malofeev covering all the related expenses. The aforementioned ninety people mainly included country’s elite: businessmen, lawyers, politicians. But there were two most important names in terms of influence on EU and NATO: Panos Kammenos, the new Minister for National Defence (Greece), and Manolis Sfakianakis, the Director of the Cyber Crime Center of the Hellenic Police.

The effect that Malofeev and such rendezvous in Russia had on Greek politics was unintentionally revealed by Dimitrios Konstantopoulos, another representative from Dugin’s list of influence agents, member of ‘Syriza’ party, a famous journalist and blogger.

On October 25 last year, he wrote: ‘One month ago Panos (Kamennos) appeared out of nowhere full of enthusiasm, and asked for tactical cooperation (with ‘Syriza’). Then he left for Moscow, as he said, to attend to private matters (friend’s wedding)’.

Kammenos came back strongly motivated to try and form a coalition with the extreme left-wing party ‘Syriza’ after the elections, though his extreme right-wing ‘Independent Greeks’ apparently had almost nothing in common, except friendliness towards Russia and opposing country’s austerity policy.

Advice from Russian spies

The most information about Kremlin’s current influence on Greek government was revealed by Leonid Reshetnikov, director of Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS) that was founded by Russian foreign intelligence (SVR).

Formally, this institute no longer belongs to SVR, and is transferred to the Presidential Administration of Russia, but it does not lower the significance of its close ties with ‘Syriza’.

Reshetnikov himself is now a retired SVR lieutenant-general, and until 2009 he was a head of SVR Analysis&Information Department. When he formally retired in 2009, he was appointed the director of RISS right away. Many other former and current Russian spies work here as well.

Former RISS employee Alexander Sytin caused considerable controversy when he publicly announced that the Institute was one of the main leaders in Russia for analytic preparation and lobbying for Crimean annexation and the war in Donbas.

In response to a former employee, Reshetnikov published explanations on Institute’s website. Surprisingly, he did not deny Sytin’s statements. Moreover, he admitted actively working with ‘Syriza’ (that won the elections in Greece) throughout recent years. According to Resehtnikov, Tsipras himself has visited the Institute. So there is little doubt that namely Reshetnikov’s subordinates developed ‘Syriza’s winning strategy for elections and helped implement it.

Especially because this party was not the only one that Reshetnikov’s Institute has worked with. In one of the leaked pieces of Gavrish’s correspondence it is stated that RISS has also signed ‘memorandum of understanding’ with Greek Institute for Geopolitical Studies which was then managed by Kammenos. At the end of July this year, Reshetnikov already had to deny reports that his Institute had prepared the plan for Greece’s withdrawal from the eurozone and reintroducing the drachma.

Kremlin’s longtime advocate

Speaking of Kremlin’s current influence in Greece we must mention its new Minister of Foreign Affairs - Nikos Kotzias.

This man previously admired the USSR, and published a book (in 1983 when Papandreou was already leading the government) that praised communist dictatorship in Poland and condemned ‘Solidarity’ movement and its leaders.

He stated that Moscow’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine were normal reaction of the superstate which allegedly faced the aggression from US and it’s ally Germany.

This minister of the EU member state thinks that Germany is trying to turn weaker states, like Greece or Ukraine, into ‘debt colonies’, so it could later dominate them.

Before becoming a member of Greek government, Kotzias was a professor at University of Piraeus, and used to organize Dugin’s lectures in this institution of higher education. He prepared a series of research and analytic material at Dugin’s and Russia’s request.

A survey in 2012 revealed that a staggering 40 per cent of Greek citizens saw Russia as their country’s best friend and ally; 24 per cent voted for France, and only 1 per cent voted for Germany. Kotzias added his conclusion to this survey: ‘Russia is a potential military and economic ally that they respect and appear to know relatively well’.

What is Kremlin seeking in Mediterranean Sea?

The aforementioned ties of Greece’s new government made the experts (Anton Shekhovtsov, Christo Grozev and others) publicly wonder whether Putin had already received the secret NATO codes from Greece.

But this question might just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the problems that the West might face. Greece was already suspected for transferring NATO secret codes to Russia in 1999 when it was not yet influenced by certain persons related to Russian intelligence. Therefore, it is likely that this time Russia’s plans might be even more ambitious and far-reaching.

All of this is especially relevant having in mind Russia’s active role in Mediterranean region. Moscow’s decision to turn down the ‘South Stream’ project and turn it into ‘Turkish Stream’ by directing gas pipeline to Turkey received mostly skeptic opinions from the West. But it is now admitted that Russia is completely serious about it.

It might be a little too early for the public joy of Kremlin’s apologists that this energetic maneuver of Russia may be the first note in NATO’s funeral march. However, turning ‘South Stream’ into ‘Turkish Stream’ definitely has a geopolitical component.

As a matter of fact, Turkey’s relations with Russia have made the experts publicly doubt the reliability of Ankara as NATO’s ally for quite some time now, and it was well before the news about ‘Turkish Stream’.

It is also worth mentioning that Putin and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are considered partners for various professional and personal reasons. However, Erdogan is not on Dugin’s list of forces in various countries that are favorable towards Russia, although Turkey’s list is not the shortest one there. So it is obvious that Russia has enough influence agents in Turkey.

If it wasn’t enough, EU and NATO were widely concerned over about the information that Cyprus is ready to be the first EU member state to let Russia install air and navy bases on its territory.

And while Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades personally denied the establishment of such bases, he admitted in advance that negotiations with Russia were held regarding the use of Cyprus’ ports and airports. The agreement was signed in Moscow on February 25, but concrete details are yet subject to negotiation.

Truth is, Cyprus’s minister of foreign affairs - Ioannis Kasoulidis - claimed that using country’s infrastructure will be ‘non-military and purely humanitarian’. However, ‘Rosijskaja Gazieta’ newspaper reports that Kremlin’s goals to establish their military presence in Cyprus are becoming obvious. And it’s also obvious that they were set a while ago.

So, it is Kremlin’s victory that Greek new government is now close to Russian-related forces. Be that as it may, this victory should be analyzed in the context of Russia’s goals and activities in Turkey and Cyprus.

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Marius Laurinavičius is senior analyst at the Eastern Europe Studies Centre

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