Familiar patterns in the plans of the Big Powers

It may seem like a bad omen, or it could just be a coincidence: the shadow of the “Ukrainian issue,” which is expected to loom large over 2022, brings to mind memories of Greece’s adventures in January 1919 when the government of then-prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos made the reckless decision to send troops to Ukraine to fight the Bolsheviks, essentially aligning the country with western (more specifically, French) policy.

Venizelos responded readily to a request by then-French president Georges Clemenceau who asked Greece to send reinforcements to French forces that were already battling the Bolsheviks in the area. In return, Paris would back Greek claims in eastern Thrace and Asia Minor.

France’s North Russia intervention was “frivolous and ill-prepared,” according to the testimonies of those who took part in it, including the head of the Greek armed forces, General Konstantinos Nider. 

In any case, Clemenceau fulfilled his promise – at least in part – and, a few months later, in May 1919, Greece was authorized to send troops to Smyrna. The rest is history: The Bolsheviks supplied Mustafa Kemal with ammunition and gold before we were led to the Asia Minor disaster.

Sure, history doesn’t exactly repeat itself. The circumstances today are different, or so it seems. Washington is not taking issue with the Bolsheviks but with the Russia of President Vladimir Putin.

Greece harbours absolutely no claims over Turkey. It is nevertheless banking on allied support to fend off Ankara’s revisionist ambitions. It really is left with no other option.

The shaky balance in relations between post-communist Russia and the West was upset at the Bucharest Summit on April 2-4, 2008. The declaration issued at the close of the NATO summit supported Georgia and Ukraine’s bid to become members of the transatlantic alliance. Moscow reacted promptly and on Aug. 11 of that same year, Russian troops invaded Georgia.

A similar pattern unfolded in Ukraine when in November 2013 demonstrations broke out after then-president Viktor Yanukovych chose not to sign an agreement that would have bound the country more closely to the European Union. And when Yanukovych fled the country in March 2014, Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

The Ukraine crisis presented Greece with an opportunity to side with U.S. policy. The creation of an American base in the northern port city of Alexandroupoli was the outcome of negotiations that started under the leftist SYRIZA administration and were completed by the current New Democracy administration.

Like back in 1919, Greece is once again caught up in the plans of the Big Powers without really having the leverage to influence developments and, as always, anticipating their support vis-a-vis Turkey.

(A version of this article was originally published by the Kathimerini newspaper and is reproduced by permission.)

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