Relations with Greece

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Ideas originating in Greece, a country in southeastern Europe that occupies the southernmost part of the Balkan Peninsula and is bordered by the Aegean, Mediterranean, and Ionian seas, first influenced Russian culture as early as the tenth century, during the golden age of Kievan Rus. Prince Vladimir (9781015) adopted Eastern Orthodoxy, which reflected his close personal ties with Constantinople, a city that dominated both the Black Sea and the Dnieper River, Kiev's busiest commercial route. Adherence to the Eastern Orthodox Church had long-range political, cultural, and religious consequences for Russia. The church liturgy was written in Cyrillic, and a corpus of translations from the Greeks had been produced for the South Slavs. The existence of this literature facilitated the East Slavs' conversion to Christianity and introduced them to rudimentary Greek philosophy, science, and historiography without the necessity of learning Greek. Russians began to look to the Greeks for religious inspiration and came to regard the Catholics of Central Europe as schismatics. This tendency laid the foundation for Russia's isolation from the mainstream of Western civilization.

Seeking warm-water ports, Russian explorers were attracted to Greece. No part of mainland Greece is more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from water, and islands constitute about one-fifth of the country's land area. By the nineteenth century, as the Russian Empire expanded to the southwest, its population grew more diverse and began to include Greek Orthodox peoples.

After Russia's defeat by Japan in 1905, the government began to take a more active interest in the Balkans and the Near East. The decline of the Ottoman Empire ("the sick man of Europe") encouraged nationalist movements in Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria. In 1912 the Balkan League, which included Greece, defeated the Ottoman Empire in the First Balkan War. A year later, the alliance split, and the Greeks, Serbs, and Romanians defeated Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War. Russia tried to extend its influence over the new nations. Greco-Russian relations became strained when Russia sided with Serbia in the conflict between Serbia and Greece for control of Albania.

Greece fought on the side of the Western allies and Russia in World War I, and similarly on the side of the Allies, including the Soviet Union, in World War II. In the immediate aftermath of the war, tensions arose between the legitimate Greek government and the Soviet Union. The Greek resistance movement during World War II, the National Liberation Front (EAM) and its army (ELAS), were dominated by the Communist Party. When the Greek government-in-exile returned to Athens in late 1944 shortly after the liberation, the communists tried to overthrow it, and in the ensuring civil war they were supported by Josef Stalin's USSR and (more enthusiastically) Tito's Yugoslavia. Britain funded the non-communists, but when the economic commitment exceeded its postwar capabilities, the United States took on the burden with the Truman Doctrine. Thanks to massive military and economic aid from the United States, which came just in time, the communists, who had established a provisional government in the northern mountains, were ultimately defeated.

Relations between Greece and the USSR cooled with the former's admission to NATO in 1952. Beginning in the mid-1950s, NATO's southeastern flank experienced periodic cycles of international tension. The problem in Cyprus, where the population is split between Greek-Cypriots (approximately 78%) and Turkish-Cypriots (18%) led eventually to a Turkish invasion of the island on July 20, 1974, to protect the Turkish-Cypriot minority.

Nevertheless, Greek-Soviet ties established during the 1980s not only survived the political upheaval that ended the Soviet Union, they even improved. In 1994 Greece signed new protocols with Russia for delivery of natural gas from a pipeline to run from Bulgaria to Greece. In 2002, during its fourth presidency of the European Union (EU), Greece repeatedly called for improved relations with Russia. At the Russia-EU summit in Brussels on November 11, 2002, Prime Minister Costas Simitis emphasized the importance of implementing the Brussels agreement on the Kaliningrad region, an enclave on the Baltic Sea that would be cut off from the rest of Russia by the Schengen zone when Poland and Lithuania joined the EU. Greece also prepared a new strategy for greater cooperation between Russia and the EU, which is Russia's largest trading partner.

See also: balkan wars; kievan rus; orthodoxy; route to greeks


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Johanna Granville

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Greece, relations with. Although Greece was included in a number of grand tours, the extra distance and primitive conditions meant that it was less well known to British travellers than Italy. When the Greeks rose in revolt against their Turkish rulers in 1821, British opinion was divided. There was sympathy for struggling nations and for Greek culture, but the policy of supporting the Ottoman empire lest Russia become overmighty was already well established. For a while the British government solved its dilemma by urging the Turks, not for the first time, to institute reform. The revolt dragged on, with appalling atrocities on both sides, and in 1827 Britain, France, and Russia by the treaty of London offered mediation: the Greeks accepted, the Turks declined. At Navarino, Codrington with an allied naval force intended to separate the combatants destroyed the Turkish fleet. In 1830 the three powers guaranteed Greek independence. Codrington's action, though unintended and for which the British government apologized to the Turks, was important, though France and Russia played a greater role in establishing Greece.

Britain did not always find the new Greek regime easy to deal with, but the Don Pacifico affair in 1850, though it had important consequences for Palmerston, was not a serious rift. Greece made substantial territorial gains. In 1864 Britain ceded the Ionian Islands (including Corfu) which had been acquired in 1815. In 1881 Greece added Thessaly and, after the Balkan War of 1913, Macedonia and Crete. In 1914, under great pressure from both sides, Greece remained neutral, even after the Turks and Bulgarians had entered the war on the side of Germany (November 1914, October 1915). The country was badly split and on the verge of civil war, but joined the allies in 1917 when they landed troops to support Venizelos, the former prime minister. At the peace conference, Greece made large demands, including Thrace and Smyrna, which the Turks refused to hand over. Even with British support, Greece had to be content at Lausanne in 1923 with western Thrace.

In the Second World War Greece was invaded by the Germans in April 1941 and though the British sent troops, they were unable to stem the attack. But at the end of the war, Churchill succeeded at Yalta in keeping Greece out of the Soviet sphere of influence. It soon became clear that Britain had no longer the military or economic strength to offer protection, but the intervention of the USA by the Truman doctrine of 1947 kept Greece outside the iron curtain.

J. A. Cannon

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GREECE, RELATIONS WITH. The primary factors in Greek-American relations are American philhellenism, Greek emigration to the United States, and U.S. foreign aid to Greece.

During the Greek War of Independence (1821–1832), the United States supported Greece, with heartfelt speeches on its behalf delivered in the American Senate. Over time, though, Greece came to view American support with ambivalence, as the line between support and intervention blurred. In the nineteenth century, Greece's foreign policy was based on the "Great Idea," a never-realized expansionist program that called for the Greek conquest of Asia Minor. The United States, along with the Great Powers, opposed it, lest its success lead to a disastrous shift in the region's power balance.

In 1924 the United States passed the Johnson-Reed Act, limiting the immigration of southern Europeans. Greece, sunk into economic depression by the worldwide postwar slump and a dramatically burgeoning population (between 1907 and 1928 the Greek population went from about 2.6 million to 6.2 million), could no longer find relief in emigration, as it had in past times of economic difficulty. Historically, Greece has relied heavily on the income sent home by its Greek-American émigré population. Such receipts plunged in the interwar period.

During World War II and the Greek Civil War (1946–1949), U.S.-Greek relations intensified as Greece became a critical pawn in the emerging Cold War. Allied with the United States during World War II, Greece's resistance to German occupation turned to civil strife when the two main groups of the resistance—one communist and the other royalist—turned against each other.

The United States proclaimed the Truman Doctrine in 1947, funneling huge amounts of financial and military aid into Greece. Greece was consequently allied with the United States during the Korean conflict and throughout the Cold War. Between 1946 and 1996, the United States provided Greece with more than $11.1 billion in economic and security assistance. Direct aid programs ceased by 1962; military assistance continued. In 1995, for example, Greece was the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. security assistance, receiving loans totaling $255.15 million.

In 1953 Greece and the United States signed a defense cooperation agreement and established American military installations on Greek territory. The Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement provides for U.S. military assistance to Greece and the operation of a major U.S. military facility in Crete.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, links between the two countries became more economic and cultural than diplomatic. The United States is the single largest foreign investor in Greece, with investments of at least $900 million in 1994; more than one million Americans are of Greek origin. Diplomatic and economic ties underwent some restructuring with Greece's integration into the European Community at the end of the twentieth century.


Allison, Graham T., and Kalypso Nicolaidis, eds. The Greek Paradox: Promise vs. Performance. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997.

Gallant, Thomas W. Modern Greece. New York: Arnold, 2001.

K. E.Fleming

See alsoTruman Doctrine .