DE RUEHTH #1152 2241424
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 111424Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2327
INFO RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L ATHENS 001152
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/11/2018 TAGS: AEMR ASEC CASC MARR PREL PINR AMGT KFLO GR SUBJECT: GEORGIA CRISIS: GREEKS SCRAMBLING TO FORMULATE POSITION
1. (C) Charge delivere U.S. position on a Qdemning Russian militar Constantinos Bitsios, @M Karamanlis, and to Ha FM Bakoyannis. Bitsiososition had not yet be(###) need for calm in deliberations. Lalacos likewise demurred from providing a Greek position, noting that FM Bakoyannis would enunciate the Greek view in Brussels, where she would attend the EU special session on Wednesday.
2. (C) A/Polcouns delivered reftel points to Stella Bezirtzoglou, First Counsellor and Georgia Desk chief in the MFA A5 Directorate for the CIS Countries, and to Efthymios Pantzopoulos, acting head of the MFA D2 Directorate for NATO. Bezirtzoglou said the Russians had come to see her earlier in the day to defend their position, and she took a call during our meeting from Russian EmbOff Denis Federov elaborating further details. The Russians claimed they were acting legally in the role as a "treaty guarantor" -- a position Bezirtzoglou said starkly reminded her of Turkey's justifications for its occupation of northern Cyprus. They also had argued Russian actions were shaped by NATO's actions in Kosovo -- Bezirtzoglou characterized Russia's military actions as essentially a form of "revenge" for Kosovo. Further drawing out the comparison with Kosovo, the Russians said they would push for an international tribunal to examine the actions of Georgian President Saakashvili. Finally, the Russians had noted to Bezirtzoglou that Russia would agree to a ceasefire only if Georgia withdrew from South Ossetia and pledged not to resume military action against the breakaway province.
3. (C) As for the Greek official position in the crisis, Bezirtzoglou also was unable to provide a response, noting that Bakoyannis would do so in Brussels on Wednesday (Bezirtzoglou was traveling to Brussels Tuesday to advise the FM). She explained, however, that Greece had been put into a difficult position by the crisis due to its close relations with both Russia and Georgia; that Greece wanted an immediate ceasefire; and that it had already urged the Russians privately to support one. Greece also wanted to begin humanitarian aid to Georgia immediately, but understood access was now difficult.
4. (C) A/Polcouns noted that Greece often said it wanted to serve as a "bridge" between Russia and the West, that a bridge goes both ways, and that now was the time for Greece to make good in this role by advocating strongly with Russia to agree to a ceasefire and withdraw from Georgian territory. Bezirtzoglou responded that Greece agreed substantively with the U.S. position but needed to avoid taking too sharp a position with the Russians to avoid alienating them. Greece, she said, stressed with the Russians the importance of the territorial integrity of Georgia and could not deny that the Russians had violated Georgia's borders. At the same time, it was important to have a "dialogue." A/Polcouns responded that while a dialogue was important, the Russians needed to understand that the West would not accept their actions in Georgia and that comparisons with Kosovo were illegitimate. Bezirtzoglou said her government was very interested in the U.S. position on the crisis and asked us to provide her more information as soon as it was available.
5. (C) COMMENT: The Greeks have gotten themselves into a tight spot between the Russians and Georgians. There is a sizable community of Greeks in Georgia and ties date back to ancient times. We have already seen one pro-Georgian demonstration in Athens. On the other hand, Greece has recently drawn closer to Russia, both in economic (energy) and political terms. The Greeks understand the seriousness of Russian actions but are wary of criticizing the Russians directly and publicly. The Greeks are likely to follow the common EU and NATO positions once formulated in Brussels, but may urge a "balanced" approach that also notes faults in Georgia's actions leading up to the crisis. We will continue to press them to condemn Russia's actions in strong terms.