ATHENS – Russia is likely to assist in the tensions and conflicts between Greece and Turkey, and Turkey and Cyprus beyond the UN if they so request, the Russian Permanent Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chezhov said in an interview with Sputnik Greece.
“We have not yet heard the requests of the three countries to Russia for assistance beyond what is happening within the UN Security Council,” he said, noting, that the S-400 system received Turkey from Russia does not threaten Greece because it is not an offensive weapon but a purely anti-aircraft defense system.
Commenting on the Greek-American defense cooperation agreement, he said it “increases the US military presence in Greece in terms of bases and number of exercises.”
At the same time, he mentioned a picture in the Balkans that is “of great concern”.
“Look at what is happening, for example, with the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue that was originally launched by the European Union. It has reached a deadlock, let’s admit it,” he said, while arguing that Ukraine should hold a referendum on NATO membership.
Referring to the Greek-Russian relations, he stressed, among other things, that they have a solid basis that cannot be destroyed by any international factor. “The problems that arise in our bilateral relations are certainly not insurmountable and the two countries are capable of overcoming any difficulties,” Tsizov commented.
Invited to stand for the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, he said that the Kurds have the right to participate in any solution to Syria. At the same time, he said Turkey has a legitimate interest in securing its southern border.
He regretted the schism in Orthodoxy:
“Of course, this move does not promote the unity of Orthodoxy. Being an Orthodox Christian myself, I was annoyed at how things were going. In fact, this should be a matter of concern for all Orthodox Christians.”
Sputnik: You recently made a reference to the Kurds and the US. What should Greece expect from the US? Can you become more specific?
Vladimir Zhizov: I understand the intensity of Greek public opinion, bearing in mind that the Kurds have been betrayed by the US, with whom they have been allies for many years. What I have said is that it is an unfortunate experience for the Kurds, who, incidentally, had warned Russia from the outset that they might eventually find themselves in this situation. So, given this experience of the Kurds as a base, it might be wise to think twice about other countries, including Greece, which has just signed a defense cooperation agreement with the US.
I have not seen the details, but from what I understand, this agreement increases the US military presence in Greece in terms of bases and number of exercises. Whether or not the country’s security will be increased remains to be seen by the Greek government. Greece is ahead of most NATO member states in meeting the famous 2% (defense spending contribution rate), even before US President Donald Trump becomes president.
Sputnik: Do you think the Americans used the Greek Church to recognize the self-perception of the “New Ukrainian Church”?
Vladimir Zhizov: This is a very sad story about the schism and I am sorry to see how things have evolved in the Ecumenical Church and of course in the Greek Church. As far as I know there is no consensus on this issue within the Greek Church, there are different views. Of course, this move does not promote the unity of Orthodoxy. Being an Orthodox Christian myself, I was annoyed at how things were going. In fact, this should be a matter of concern for all Orthodox Christians.
Sputnik: Vladimir Putin talked about destabilizing the Balkans and blamed the western countries for it a few days ago. What is your opinion?
It is up to the Russian President’s press office to comment on his speeches and statements. Personally, I believe that what we are seeing now in the Balkans is a picture of great concern. Look at what is happening, for example, with the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue that was originally launched by the European Union. It has reached a dead end, let’s face it. To my knowledge, the UN Security Council is going to discuss Kosovo and this will give us the opportunity to express our concern about this situation. I’ll limit myself to them at this time.
Sputnik: Yen Stoltenberg said Russia could not prevent Ukraine’s decision to join NATO. What do you think?
Vladimir Zhizov: The Ukrainian people have not expressed their views on this. Ukraine should hold a referendum on NATO membership. That has not happened and, in my view, the chances of a positive vote on this issue are very limited. Ukraine, like any other country, including those that have recently joined NATO, is a sovereign state free to choose its alliances. But Russia, as a sovereign country, is also free to voice its concerns about NATO expansion, an effort to address 21st century security challenges through 20th century instruments and mechanisms. I remind you that NATO was created for a completely different purpose.
Sputnik: What is Russia’s position on the Turkish operation in Syria?
Vladimir Zhizov: The position was expressed by President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov. Speaking of Syria in general, we are working with Turkey and Iran on the “Astana conference” line to promote a political solution. I think that everyone agrees today that there can be no military solution to the problems facing the Syrian Arab Republic. Objectively, we were able to start a political process a few days ago in Geneva. The first meeting of the Constitutional Committee was convened. There have been heated discussions. Of course, this was expected, but hopefully the process will continue.
We have a number of factors in mind. First, the Kurds are an integral part of Syrian society and the Syrian Arab Republic and have the right to participate in any solution regarding Syria. On the other hand, of course, Turkey has a legitimate interest in securing its southern border. We know that this particular place has been a hotbed of tension and mutual infringement for decades.
So, what Russia has contributed to the situation is to bring all interested parties together and provide a way out of this crisis. The Turkish operation has stopped. This was reflected in the Sochi Memorandum, which I am sure your readers know. The document envisioned an arrangement in which the Kurdish forces cooperated with the Syrian state army and, at the same time, with the Russian military police. You know, some western media, as usual, confuse the terms. We have no ground troops in Syria. The Russian military police – no armor and artillery – are conducting joint patrols with the Syrian army in some areas and with the Turkish army in other areas.
Of course, everything is quite fragile. Our goal is to prevent the loss of human life and bloodshed.
Sputnik: We have heard a lot about the S-400 missile system that Turkey received from Russia. Is there a chance they could hit Greece, as NATO propaganda has suggested?
Vladimir Zhizov: Never trust NATO propaganda (laughs). I would also say that the S-400 is not an offensive weapon. It is a purely defensive, anti-aircraft defense system. You can’t attack anyone with a missile defense, just an invading plane or helicopter, or a rocket. Greece knows this very well because it owns the anti-aircraft system S-300, which is an older version of the same system.
Sputnik: Do you think that Russia could stop the episodes of tension, large or small, between Greece and Turkey or Cyprus and Turkey?
Vladimir Zhizov: Russia may be able to provide political assistance as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. As you know, the Security Council “comes back to the heart of the matter” every six months on the Cyprus problem. Still, we have no requests from the three countries for Russia to provide any assistance beyond what is happening within the UN Security Council.
You know, I have been dealing with the Cyprus issue for over 40 years, and there have been several initiatives from many directions, including from my own country, which, among other things, included a proposal to hold an international conference on the Cyprus issue, but not in the form tried in Switzerland (and failed). Our idea was for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Greece and Turkey and the two Cypriot communities, to come to the UN table to discuss aspects of resolving the Cyprus settlement. Taking into account, of course, that the internal aspects must be shaped by the two Cypriot communities themselves, based on the Security Council resolutions and the 1977 and 1979 agreements.
Sputnik: What do you think about Greek-Russian relations and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendia’s recent visit to Moscow?
Vladimir Zhizov: I do not deal with the current issues of bilateral relations on a daily basis. You should ask my friend Ambassador Maslow in Athens. However, my strong conviction is that Russian-Greek relations have a solid foundation that cannot be destroyed, or reduced by any effort, by any international factor. The problems that arise in our bilateral relations are certainly not insurmountable and the two countries are capable of overcoming any difficulties.