“Solidarity with the Ukrainian people is a given. But the Nazis cannot have a say in parliament.” These are the words of Alexis Tsipras, the former PM and leader of Greece’s left-liberal Syriza Party.
Tsipras was reacting to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s attempt to legitimize the Azov Battalion, an umbrella of far-right and fascist fighters trained by the US to battle Russians in Ukraine, as he toured foreign capitals to appeal for direct and indirect military support.
Zelensky stirred controversy with his April visit to Greek parliament in an effort to win support for his country’s anti-Russian war effort. Mariupol, home to a significant number of ethnic Greeks who have faced persecution from the neo-Nazi Azov Brigade, was a particular area of concern in Athens.
During his visit to parliament, Zelensky played a video featuring an Azov fighter who claimed that his relatives had fought the German Nazis in the Second World War. This was seen as a cynical attempt to whitewash the fascist organization. It was particularly painful for Greeks still haunted by the ghosts of World War II, when the country boasted a strong left that resisted the Third Reich.
Once the Nazis had been defeated and the British empire weakened, the US moved in to Greece with full-force to transform it into an anti-Soviet hub, terrorizing the Greek left and absorbing the nation into NATO. Since then, the Pentagon has viewed Greece and its neighbor Turkey as a strategic bulwark. Both countries act as logistical bridges between the pro-US Europe and the oil-rich Middle East.
NATO’s ongoing proxy war against Russia has brought these strategic interests into stark relief, triggering union strikes against the offloading of weapons headed for Ukraine and stirring a wave of public anger against Zelensky and his Greek hosts for their provocative publicity stunt in parliament.
The outrage has emanated directly from painful memories of Nazi occupation and the CIA’s sustained assaults on Greece’s post-war democracy.
In 1936, Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas became a pro-Nazi dictator with the support of King Geórgios II. Metaxas’ death in 1941 bolstered the Greek Communist Party’s (KKE) anti-Nazi resistance. The KKE had established ELAS, the People’s Liberation Army, to fight the occupying Nazis. Until 1943, ELAS was initially trained by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), a top-secret unit designed to train European paramilitaries. Indicative of the power of Greek leftism, ELAS’s political wing, the National Liberation Front (EAM), boasted 2 million members.
The British Foreign Office fought to restore Geórgios II, explicitly citing his anti-left credentials. Working with Cyprus’s fascist battalion X, the Brits set up a new army unit, the Hellenic Raiding Force, to hunt and kill ELAS members. The Syntagma Square demonstrations in 1944 against the British and fascists ended in a massacre of 25 protestors, including a young child. A year later at the Yalta/Crimea Conference, Stalin agreed to allow Britain and the US to occupy Greece in exchange for Bulgaria and Romania. In 1947, Britain asked the US for support to purge leftist ideologies from the Greek public’s mind.
The Holy Bond of Greek Officers (IDEA) received help from the CIA and its predecessors, which worked with the FBI to send information on “leftists” to the Greek Embassy. In his book on post-War, US collaboration with Nazis, Blowback, Christopher Simpson reported that secret Pentagon papers revealed how the US “poured millions of dollars into IDEA … in order to create what it termed the ‘Secret Army Reserve’ made up of selected Greek military, police, and anti-Communist [officers].” Typical of the US imperial mindset, the “left” included everyone from right-wing republicans to religious minorities.
General Napoleon Zervas, the so-called Minister for Public Order, told US General William Livesay that the goal was “to kill the Communists.” US Ambassador Lincoln MacVeagh warned PM Dimitrios Maximos that US public opinion opposed “rightist excesses” against “non-subversive political opponents,” such as the imprisonment of 36,000 suspected leftists, including thousands of women – some of whom were nursing their babies. However, the US chargé, Karl Rankin, considered such measures to be “quite necessary.”
Dwight Griswold, the director of the USAID precursor known as the American Mission for Aid in Greece, described mass state child abduction from detained parents as an “unusually effective” psychological warfare device, particularly against the “Slavic minority.” With the left crushed, IDEA teamed up with NATO when Greece became a member in 1952.
In 1953, the CIA laid the foundation for Greece’s National Intelligence Service, the KYP, furnishing the outfit with computer-style technology to track the population. The KYP was so cozy with the CIA that the future CIA station chief in Athens, James M. Potts, referred to the Greek intelligence liaison, Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos, as “my son.”
Next, the CIA launched Operation (Red) Sheepskin, a subversive operation initiated through a mutual cooperation agreement between US General Lucian Truscott and his counterpart, Chief of Staff Konstantinos Davos. Over the course of a decade, Sheepskin and the KYP provided weapons and guerrilla warfare training to stay-behind rightist cells to pave the way for the coup that brought a military junta to power in April 1967.
“Greece is important to the United States because of its strategic location, its proximity both to the Soviet Bloc and to the Near East,” says a National Security Council (NSC) report from 1957. Also important is “its membership in NATO, and its ties to Yugoslavia through the Balkan Pact … Greece forms a land barrier to Soviet access to the Mediterranean.”
While granting the US and NATO basing rights, Greece was spending a third of its national budget on militarism. From the end of the war until 1958, US taxpayers had invested a whopping $1.1 billion to supply Greece with arms – around $11 billion in today’s money.
Under the NSC doctrine, the Greek Armed Forces were modernized with units inspired by the US Delta Force and the British Special Air Service. Daniele Ganser’s unparalleled history of NATO’s secret armies documents how, under the command of Field Marshall Alexander Papagos, the Hellenic Raiding Force (LOK, mentioned above) worked with the CIA to clear a path for NATO’s enduring presence in Greece.
Cyprus became a crucial issue. Given its close proximity to the Middle East, the US and Britain also used the island as a base. Turkey, a US ally whose population also suffered from clandestine NATO operations, lay claim to Cyprus. The Lyndon Johnson administration proposed splitting Cyprus to appease the Greeks and Turks. When the Greek poet and diplomat, Alexander Matsas, objected, Johnson infamously replied: “Fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant, Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If those two fellows continue itching the elephant, they just may get whacked.”
Three years later in 1967, Greek elites were paralyzed by worker strikes, averaging 24 per month. Four weeks before the presumed center-left political victory, LOK implemented NATO’s Plan Prometheus II: the rounding up of suspected communists culminating in the Generals’ Coup.
The Minister of Coordination under the Center Union government ultimately deposed by the military coup, Andreas Papandreou, happened to be the ex-CIA son of PM Giorgios Papandreou. US intelligence considered Andreas to be too soft on the leftists in the coalition. Gustav Avrakotos, a CIA agent, advised his Greek military colleagues of Papandreou the younger: “shoot the motherfucker because he’s going to come back to haunt you.” Andreas claimed that he knew nothing of the existence of the CIA’s IDEA until they moved to seize power.
President Johnson’s National Security Advisor, W.W. Rostow, warned a committee in February 1967 that, against the interests of the US, the Papandreou-Center Union would likely win the forthcoming election. The main coup plotters were linked to the KYP – the CIA-run intelligence agency. A main coup plotter, one Brigadier Hadjipetrou, was head of the NATO base in Crete. Under the pretext that the Soviets had invaded Czechoslovakia, US “defensive” arms exports to Greece resumed.
Three years into the junta, the Nixon administration (whose campaign received money from the KYP regime) also reversed the US ban on weapons to Greece. The New York Times reported that “the Greek military Government will receive tens of millions of dollars worth of heavy weapons (sic), such as tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and possibly jet planes, that have been withheld from them under a selective embargo.”
Despite PR-friendly words and timid actions to make it look as though Washington cared, the junta shored up America’s military installations. Listing numerous US and NATO air bases, an academic study notes that “[t]he advent of dictatorship … did not hinder the US’s base policy. On the contrary, it strengthened the presence of the bases, especially following the signing of the 1973 agreement on the homeporting facilities of the [Navy’s] Sixth Fleet in the bay of Elefsina,” in the south. Between 1967 and ‘69, the junta received over $100 million-worth of weapons, which circumvented Congressional export rules because the arms were supposedly “surplus.”
The junta terrorized the public with the usual atrocities: murder, disappearances, torture, and control over the national media. Despite the state terror, leftist and other progressive groups continued to struggle for democracy. Dedicated protests, the global energy crisis, and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus converged to weaken the generals’ grip on power. The regime collapsed in 1974.
An undated US State Department review stated that if the right-wing New Democracy party won the 1981 elections, “Greece would remain stable and its Western ties would be consolidated.” If, however, Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement won, “Greece would … become an unreliable and troublesome partner for the US.” Papandreou won but, to the relief of the US, followed a pro-Washington course.
By decades’ end, the CIA could tolerate its former employee, writing that despite the rhetoric, Papandreou “reached an agreement on continued US basing” and that his “promised radical Socialist solution” ended with “austerity and fiscal restraint.” A Congressional Research Service report notes that, “Although his previous tenure (1981-89) was noted for its anti-American rhetoric, Papandreou has said that he wants good relations with the United States.”
The US-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement 1990 allowed for the formal training of Greek forces by the US. Throughout the ‘90s, Greek forces benefited from America’s multimillion dollar International Military Education and Training Program.
According to the US Navy, “during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Greek Navy warships operated in the strait of Tiran alongside ships of the US, French, and Spanish navies” to enforce the strangulation of Iraq. In 1999, President Bill Clinton issued a kind of apology for his predecessors’ support for abuses.
In the same year, NATO bombed Serbia – the junction of an energy pipeline – under the pretext that an ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians was taking place. Indicative of Greece’s logistical importance to the US, forces were transported “from Germany through the ‘Eastern Swing Route’ rail lines down to Thessaloniki, Greece[,…] and back up to Skopje,” Macedonia.
Fifty years of US-British post-War terror failed to break the popular spirit. Ordinary Greeks protested the prospective involvement of their armed forces, blocking British trucks and pelting service personnel with rotten food.
After 9/11, Greece “contributed to the ISAF mission,” the so-called International Security Assistance Force that occupied Afghanistan, as well as to Operation Active Endeavor; one of the US-NATO post-9/11 naval projects in the Mediterranean. By 2003, however 94 percent of Greeks were opposed to the US-led invasion of Iraq, so direct participation by their leaders was ruled out. But through NATO, the US continued to modernize Greek’s military.
For instance, the 7th Army Training Command has a Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Germany, which is broadly part of the US Special Operations Command Europe. These commands oversee the International Special Training Center for NATO member states. Annual training included “evaluating urban terrain, shooting through window glass, as well as climbing and establishing hides in buildings.”
After backing a coup in Ukraine in 2014, the US initiated Operation Atlantic Resolve: an EU-wide rotation of 7,000 personnel and weapons, including Apache, Blackhawk, and Chinook helicopters, Abrams, Bradley, and Paladin tanks, and a host of logistical equipment. Five years later, the US Army and Navy began dredging the Greek seaport in Alexandroupoli, in the east, in preparation for Atlantic Resolve. In 2021, Greece and other nations joined the US Special Operations Command’s International Division.
That year, the port in Alexandroupoli enabled “the movement of hundreds of U.S. Army equipment items for [Atlantic Resolve].” According to Pentagon’s Europe Command (EUCOM), the 598th Transportation Brigade, Surface Deployment and Distribution Command and the 21st Theater Sustainment Command offloaded “nearly 400 vehicles and containers … to include tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and a variety of support equipment.” Col. Joshua D. Hirsch, Commander of the 598th said: “The current operation represents the culmination of all the efforts that the U.S. Army, along with our interagency partners at the U.S. Embassy, our allies in Greece and our industry partners, have put in place to leverage the capabilities of this tremendous port.”
At year’s end, Larissa Air Base in eastern Greece hosted F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft from the 336th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, as part of Operation Castle Forge. The Operation is “designed to provide a dynamic, partnership-focused environment that raises the U.S. commitment to collective defense in the Black Sea region while enhancing interoperability alongside NATO allies.” Gen. Jeff Harrigian, Commander of the US Air Force Europe-AFRICA and NATO Allied Air Commander, described the area as an “absolutely critical region.”
In March, US Special Operations Europe tweeted that the 7th Special Forces Group and Naval Special Warfare Task Unit conducted a Joint Combined Exercise Training “with Greek Special Warfare units in Athens.”
This March, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) announced that its 15 lawmakers would boycott Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the 300-seat Bouleterion (parliament). The parliament’s Vice President, Geórgios Lambroúlis, and one of Greece’s elected representatives at the European Union, Sotirios Zarianopoulos, had already been barred from Kiev for backing the Ukrainian Communist Party, which Zelensky has banned and whose Youth Leaders, brothers Mikhail and Alexander Kononovich, are currently imprisoned
As The Grayzone reported, Zelensky’s SBU security services have escalated its campaign of terror against political opposition since war with Russia erupted, arresting, torturing and even occasionally assassinating officials, human rights activists and leftists considered “pro-Russian” or overly critical of Kiev’s objectives. Like the Greek KYP, the Ukrainian SBU has been trained by the CIA.
With Zelensky’s arrival to Greece’s parliament, the communist KKE denounced what it called “a reactionary government [in Ukraine] backed by the US-NATO-EU camp and like Russia is responsible for the drama of the Ukrainian people.”
Unlike the KKE, the leftish (but in reality, liberal) Syriza party initially welcomed Zelensky. Yet the screening of a video featuring a self-professed ethnic Greek Azov fighter spouting about how his grandfather fought the Third Reich was too much even for Syriza.
Former PM Tsipras of the Syriza party tweeted: “The speech was a provocation” and an “historic sham.” Meanwhile, Syriza’s former Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who quit/was fired in 2015 for opposing his ruling party’s privatization and austerity agenda, issued an impassioned condemnation of the spectacle: “By bringing Nazis into the video call in front of the Greek parliament to speak on behalf of his government and by failing to make any comment on the Cyprus issue,” i.e. Turkey’s invasion, Zelensky “insulted the parliaments and the peoples of our countries.”
A majority of the Greek public joined the left leaders in expressing revulsion at Zelensky’s performance. Asked by pollsters this April for their impressions of the Ukrainian president’s speech before parliament, 50% of respondents described it as “very bad”, 15% called “bad”, while 16% said they were “neutral.” Only 11% of Greeks described Zelensky’s speech as “good” or “very good.”
In October 2021, Greece and the US amended their Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement to “deepen and expand on [their] partnership to maintain strong, capable, and interoperable militaries.” Soon after, Greek media reported: “A large number of helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles …, tanks, cannons, and artillery are expected to reach the Greek port near the border with Turkey in the weeks to come as part of an extensive military shipment that is of unprecedented scale.”
From Bulgaria and the German-based 21st Theater Sustainment Command, the US sent by rail forty-four M117 Guardian Armored Safety Vehicles to Greece, which arrived in November. The “Safety” epithet is propaganda. Jane’s reports that the vehicles were to be fitted with machine guns. It was expected that over one thousand vehicles would be delivered by April, half of which are meant for the Greek military. We are left to assume that the other half will go to Ukraine. The arrival of the US Army one month prior brought total US forces in Europe to 100,000: “a number not seen since 2005,” says Stars and Stripes.
PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis of the ruling New Democracy, the old CIA favorite, recently authorized lethal military equipment to Ukraine, declaring to parliament: “There can be no equal distances. You are either with peace and international law, or against them”—“international law” meaning support for US-British violations of international law. But the rhetoric has fallen flat.
Despite a barrage of pro-NATO propaganda that has ensured that 75 percent of Greeks condemn Putin, 60 percent are also critical of Zelensky.
Citing opinion polls, cultural professor Nikos Marantzidis commented: “Greek public opinion has a Russophile dimension, friendly feelings linked to history, a common culture based on Orthodoxy and for some, mistrust towards the West.” Given the history, it’s not hard to understand the roots of the latter.
More recent Greek polls suggest that 66 percent to 29 percent oppose their government’s decision to send weapons to Ukraine. Further, an overwhelming majority of Greeks believe their country should maintain a neutral role in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
The decades of torture, both physical and psychological, inflicted on Greece by the US and its fascist and quasi-fascist, post-War partners have insulated a large sector of the Greek citizenry against NATO’s propaganda. Instead of making the public cower and internalize their imperial subjection, Greeks have retained their traditional anti-war mentality.
As Athens brushes aside Greek popular opinion to join NATO’s war party, some Greek citizens are taking direct action to signal their disgust and concern over being used as pawns in the great game of power rivalry.
This April 10, Thessaloniki-based rail workers at the TrainOSE company launched a strike to protest the transportation of US military vehicles. Workers and the 12 unions backing them wrote: “We will not become complicit in the passage of the war machine through the territories of our country.”
With the popularity of PM Mitsotakis and his pro-US New Democracy party plunging since Zelensky’s speech, his government has reportedly announced a halt to arms shipments to Ukraine.
The US may be attempting an end-around by sourcing Russian-made weapons from Cyprus. Local media report: “Americans specifically asked for Cypriot anti-aircraft weapons, as well as attack helicopters.”
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