‘For the sake of old comradeship lift the embargo for us, Mr Putin’

‘For the sake of old comradeship lift the embargo for us, Mr Putin’

“I fully understand the reasons that prompted you to take the decision to impose an embargo on EU agricultural products. However, on behalf of the Greek people, who are going through a period of extreme hardship, I appeal to your humane feelings to think again over your decision toward the Greek farmers.”

Thus starts the emotional personal letter sent last week by Manolis Glezos, the 92-year-old leftist politician, to the president of the Russian Federation after Putin’s decision to impose an import ban on most food products exported to Russia by the United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway as a response to Western sanctions against Moscow over its role in Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula.

Glezos, a living legend and a national hero of the Greek resistance against Nazi Germany during World War II, had an additional reason for attempting to change the mind of his “former comrade.” A lifelong political fighter in the leftist camp, Glezos was even arrested and tried in the late 1950s by an Athens military court for “spying in favor of the Soviet Union.” The case against him was eventually dropped and he was released due to an international outcry, which led to a strong reaction by the Soviet Union whose postal service even produced a special stamp with his face on it.  

But those were the days of 1959. And Mr. Glezos, the recently elected member of the European Parliament under the banner of Syriza, knows that he should fight his war with a newer weapon.

“Our people were the only ones who stood against the wishes of the EU Directorate. We stood against the partition of Yugoslavia, then the bombing of Serbia, the invasion in Iraq, the threats against Syria… and we paid it dearly by becoming together with Cyprus the guinea pigs of the new order. Now that Ukraine has become a toy in the hands of fascist clans, we defended the right of the people for self-determination… we appeal to your humane feelings and the traditional friendship between our peoples, I plead for not imposing an embargo on Greek agricultural products.”

Unfortunately, neither the dramatic appeal of Mr. Glezos nor the efforts of Greek government officials and diplomats have borne “any fruit” to date. Putin seems determined to deliver a strong counter punch to all EU member countries without exception, not even for his old comrades.

This could not have been a worse time for the Greek producers whose peaches, strawberries and kiwis have been among the favorites among Russians. And the Russian market was a good destination for Greek fresh products. In the middle of a summer season, such a development is not only a catastrophe for producers, but also a political headache for the Antonis Samaras government, which is still struggling with an ailing, indebted economy.

But this is one side of the story. The other one has to do with Turkey.

Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci did not hide his optimism the other day about the new prospects for Turkey after the Russia-EU crisis. Convinced that Russia’s crisis with the West is an opportunity for Turkey, Mr. Zeybekci declared that Ankara would gain an advantage by boosting its trade relations with Russia and engage in “preferential trade.” And Mehmet Şimşek talked of “good geopolitical news.”

The prospect of Ankara filling the trade gap left by Russia’s embargo has upset Athens as it was obvious from the tone of the statement by the Greek Foreign Ministry regarding the effects of the Western sanctions on countries like Greece. “The EU and its Euroatlantic partners should, also understand, as soon as possible, that it is not possible to have a candidate member of the EU who is also a member of NATO, who participates in à la carte European policies, to benefit from the cost paid by member states.”

The diplomatic and careful phrasing of the message cannot hide the frustration in Athens over the prospect of losing a historical partnership with Russia to Turkey due to Western policies. And it will be interesting to see if this will have an effect on the Greek-Turkish relations as they will be shaped after the Aug. 10 presidential elections.