The visit of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to Greece began on April 3. Despite its membership in NATO, in Russia’s foreign policy Greece is considered a strategic ally of Moscow in the Balkans, as well as in solving the problem of Cyprus and the Middle Eastern crisis. Greece and Russia pursue a common policy with regard to Serbia, advocate quick solving of the problem of Kosovo, speak against separatism in Macedonia and advocate strong cooperation both in the Mediterranean and Black seas. The factor of friendship with Russia is for Greece the main component of the counterbalance to the geopolitical influence of Turkey in the region.
It is possible that this factor serves as a stimulus to development of military and military technological cooperation between Moscow and Athens. Which results have been achieved in this area?
First, defense cooperation of the countries is constructed on a number of basic documents. Back in 1995, the countries signed agreements on cooperation in the defense area and on military technological cooperation. The intergovernmental Russian-Greek Commission for Military Technological Cooperation has been working since 1997. This commission meets twice a year alternately in Moscow and Athens.
Second, Russia and Greece are taking an active part in the solving of problems of European security. Contacts of Russian and Greek military inspectors have been developing successfully according to the Treaty on Conventional Arms in Europe since 1998. Contacts of military sailors of Russia and Greece are also active. In 1995 and 1996 the Greek training ship Aris and destroyer Kimon visited the Russian port of Novorossiysk, and in 1997 the Russian patrol ship Pytlivy took part in celebrations dedicated to the anniversary of the battle of Navarino in Greece. The big landing ship BPK-52 of the Russian Black Sea Fleet visited Greece in 1998 due to the 170th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Greece.
Third, Russia has taken and is taking an active part in the expansion of the Greek armed forces and in the organization of its air defense. According to the Greek newspaper Nea, the share of Russia in the military purchases of Greece amounts to about 10% (the US has 35%). At present, Greece possesses the following kinds of Russian armament: 31 batteries of Tor-M1 surface-to-air missiles (the contract is worth $750 million), 20 Osa missile systems (value of deal – $120 million), two batteries (initially intended for Cyprus) of the S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles (value of contract – $200 million), two Zubr landing hovercraft (value of contract – $300 million), as well as many weapons of Soviet manufacture including machine guns, trucks, antitank missiles and so on. Greece is prepared to buy the most modern Russian Kornet-E antitank missiles. According to military sources in Athens, the recent cutback of defense expenditures in Greece did not influence the already agreed purchase of Russian armament.
Fourth, while buying Russian weapons, Greece is ready to upgrade old kinds of armament and combat materiel with assistance of the Russian defense industry.
For example, Rosoboronexport offers to Greece not only the most modern BMP-3 combat infantry vehicles, but also an upgrading for the BMP-1 fleet. Greece received these vehicles after the unification of Germany (at present, the Greek armed forces have about 500 BMP-1’s, 360 of which can be upgraded). Greece expressed its interest in upgrading of the BMP-1’s through their equipment with new armament, engines, replacing of the running gear and mounting of modern communications systems.
Experts note that if the Greek Defense Ministry makes a positive decision, the Tula-based Instrument Building Design Bureau, Russian Defense Ministry and manufacturer of the BMP-1, Kurgan Machine Building Plant, will take part in the work on the upgrading of the Greek BMP-1’s.
Fifth, in addition to the upgrading of armored vehicles, the Russian Defense Ministry offered new airplanes to Greece. For instance, the Russian airplane building corporation MiG plans to promote the Russian-French MiG-AT combat-training airplane in Greece. An operating model of the cockpit of the MiG-AT with French avionics was presented during the Defendori-2000 exhibition and caused deep interest on the part of the Greek military.
Greece has fully prepared infrastructure for maintenance of the French Mirage-F1 and Mirage-2000 fighters in service with its armed forces, and hence there will be no need to organize new services to repair engines and avionics of the MiG-AT planes.
Russia also achieved some success in supplies of helicopters. Thus, the Kazan Helicopter Plant will take part in the Greek helicopter tender with the Mi-17-1V military cargo airplane. Already in 2000 and 2001, the Rostov-based Rostvertol association sold two Mi-26 heavy helicopters.
According to experts, over the last three years the value of signed Russian-Greek contracts has exceeded $1 billion, and there are favorable prospects for broadening of bilateral cooperation.