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Saturday, December 3, 2022

Greece normalising relations with Assad: What a disgrace!

Building of the Greek Embassy in Damascus; Credit: Social Media

In 2012, with the increase of violence in Syria as a result of the Assad regime’s choice to confront peaceful popular protests with iron and fire and the attempt by Western countries, led by the US, to cut diplomatic relations with Assad, including Greece, Athens, under former prime minister Antonis Samaras, closed its embassy in the Syrian capital, Damascus, as a message of condemnation and rejection of these crimes and this bloody policy.

Antonis Samaras, the 14th Prime Minister of Greece from 2012 to 2015; Credit: EC Audiovisual Service

Since then, the position of subsequent Greek governments has been in harmony with the general European position not to normalise relations with the Syrian regime without the implementation of international agreements and Security Council resolutions, mainly Resolution 2254 which supports a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria through a transitional process leading to an interim government responsible for democratic parliamentary and presidential elections under the supervision of the United Nations.

This resolution, issued in December 2015, remains ink on paper today, as the preoccupation of Western countries, led by the US, with other files and the unfettered support of Assad’s allies, Moscow and Tehran, have made the Syrian issue hostage of the latter.

the government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has chosen to reopen its embassy in Damascus in a step that can at least be described as a crime

Eva J. KOULOURIOTIS

Despite Assad’s failure to comply with Western conditions and the continuation of the same criminal, dictatorial, domestic and foreign policies supported by Russia, one of which was the declaration of recognition of the “independence” of the Russian-occupied territories of Lugansk and Donetsk in Ukraine, the government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has chosen to reopen its embassy in Damascus in a step that can at least be described as a crime.

surprisingly and away from the media, the Greek embassy in Damascus reopened its doors about four months ago without any comment from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Eva J. KOULOURIOTIS

On May 5, 2020, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the appointment of a special envoy to Syria, Mrs. Tasia Athanassiou (former ambassador of Greece to Syria between 2009 and 2012). This step, being a withdrawal of Athens from the policy of the European Union as a whole, was personally justified by the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, saying that the special envoy will not present her credentials to the Assad regime and that her work will be limited to management of the needs of Greek and European citizens in Syria. The current top Greek diplomat’s name is Nikolaos Protonotarios.

Patriarch John X of Antioch and All East received the Chargé d’Affaires of the Greek Embassy in Syria, Ambassador Nikolaos Protonotarios, at the Patriarchal Headquarters in Damascus, January 27, 2022; Credit: Orthodox Times

But surprisingly and away from the media, the Greek embassy in Damascus reopened its doors about four months ago without any comment from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This new step of rapprochement with the Assad regime was a prelude to the next one, which is the practical normalisation of relations with it.

Screenshot of the info on the Greek Embassy in Damascus website

Through personal contact, I was able to confirm that the Greek embassy in Damascus was almost fully operational. Until then, Syrian citizens wishing to obtain a tourist visa had to contact the Greek embassy in Beirut, but in July 2022 the Greek embassy in Damascus was activated to handle these procedures, contrary to the announcements of the Greek Foreign Ministry that the work of the embassy will be limited to facilitating procedures for Greek citizens.

A screenshot of the email received from the Greek Embassy in Beirut; Here is the translation: Subject: “Visa for Syrian citizen for visiting Greece”; The Body: “We would like to inform you that our embassy has opened in Damascus so you should go there to make your application. The Lebanese embassy will no longer accept Syrian citizens unless they are permanent residents of Lebanon”

Therefore, the logical question arises: What are the benefits for Greece of building relations with the Assad regime?

First of all, it should be emphasised that Greek citizens in Syria, who are few, can have their papers easily facilitated through the embassy in Beirut. Therefore, linking diplomatic dealings with the Assad regime to this issue is unrealistic.

The Assad regime is practically worthless to any foreign country, as it is in economic collapse with the Syrian currency sinking, tens of billions of dollars in debt, corruption at all levels, and industrial and agricultural depression. Without the humanitarian aid provided by the World Food Programme, more than 80% of Syrian citizens would have starved to death.

There is only one commercial activity flourishing in Syria right now: The Captagon trade. In December 2019, the Greek government announced the seizure of a record shipment of drugs (Captagon pills) estimated at five tons, part of which was headed for Greek territory and another part for South America. Is this trade the goal of relations with the Assad regime?

Politically, the Assad regime, which has killed more than a million civilians and displaced more than half of Syria’s citizens and it continues to arrest tens of thousands, is in international isolation despite Assad’s rare visits to Moscow, Tehran or Abu Dhabi. In Syria, Assad personally has virtually no power. The Russians determine his relations with Israel and Turkey and the Iranians determine his relations with the Arab countries of the region, while there are more than 15 Russian bases in the areas he controls and more than 100 Iranian bases. Realistically, Assad rules only his presidential palace in the Muhajireen neighborhood of Damascus. So how will he benefit the politicians in Athens? Or does this move come in the context of the conflict between Assad and Turkey under the title “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” even if it is Assad?

any collusion with this regime constitutes support for Russia and its policies in Syria on the one hand, and in Ukraine on the other

Eva J. KOULOURIOTIS

At the international level, a few months ago, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was vocal, through his speeches and the policy of the current Greek government that supports Ukraine and rejects the Russian invasion, confirming the mistake of Greece and Europe to ignore Russia’s military action in Syria. This attitude clearly contradicts the communication, even formally, with the Assad regime.

Assad recognized the independence of Ukraine’s separatist regions in support of Moscow’s narrative and has long since received shipments of stolen wheat from Ukraine. In addition, many Western reports confirm the participation of Assad’s soldiers in the pro-Russian invasion of Ukraine. Therefore, any collusion with this regime constitutes support for Russia and its policies in Syria on the one hand, and in Ukraine on the other. So, is the Mitsotakis government trying to reduce tension with Moscow by communicating with Assad?

In light of the accelerated development of Greek-American relations recently, any step towards rapprochement with the Assad regime constitutes a blow to the American position against normalisation with it. Washington reaffirmed its position by rejecting any normalisation of relations with Assad or his international reinstatement. This confirmation came after Assad visited Abu Dhabi.

the only beneficiary of any normalisation step between Syria and Greece at the moment is only Assad himself. It is a step that does not serve the interests of the Syrian people who demand freedom, democracy, and security

Eva J. KOULOURIOTIS

Even Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (beloved by Greeks and known for his close relations with Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his government) presiding a hearing on Syria entitled “The Path Forward On U.S.-Syria Policy: Strategy And Accountability,” pointed out the need to reject any attempt to restore or normalise relations with Assad or reopen his embassies, emphasising the brutality of his regime and the transformation of Syria into a “drug state”.

Screenshot: Bob Menendez speaking at The Path Forward On U.S.-Syria Policy: Strategy And Accountability hearing

for Greece, the so-called cradle of democracy, to hold the title of being one of the first European countries to restore diplomatic relations with the Hitler of the 21st century is no less than a disgrace

Eva J. KOULOURIOTIS

This consistent position of Washington towards Assad makes the Greek diplomatic movement a departure from the unified Western position. In short, the only beneficiary of any normalisation step between Syria and Greece at the moment is only Assad himself. It is a step that does not serve the interests of the Syrian people who demand freedom, democracy, and security. The other beneficiary is Russia, which is trying with all its power to restore Assad’s place at the international table as a legitimate regime, while controlling Syria politically, militarily and economically.

In fact, there are few more European countries that started reopening their embassies. Cyprus is one of them and the name of its top diplomat is Sevag Avedissian. But, for Greece, the so-called cradle of democracy, to hold the title of being one of the first European countries to restore diplomatic relations with the Hitler of the 21st century is no less than a disgrace.

Eva J. Koulouriotis
Eva J. Koulouriotis
Political analyst specialising in the Middle East with a focus on Syria, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Turkey; jihad and jihadist organisations and Greek-Turkish relations; Contributed to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, The New Arab, Al-Jazeera, Al-Sharq Qatar, Annahar, Orient News, Arab News, Huffington Post Greece, the Greek weekly Paraskinio and RT; Held several positions with the European Union of Women (EUW)

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