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Fresh tension between Moscow and Athens over visas to Russian Orthodox priests

A fresh tension sparked in the relations between Greece and Russia after Russian Orthodox priests claimed that they have been denied visas. Moscow said it was waiting for a clarification on the issue by the Greek side. Athens replied with a sharp statement in which it accused the former ally as “a comrade in arms with Turkey.”

Russia is awaiting the official Greek position on claims that Russian Orthodox priests are denied visas.  Moscow has asked the Greek Embassy to clarify whether the Greek side to refuse issuance of visas to Russian Orthodox Church priests, said the spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova.

Several priests from the Russian Orthodox Church claimed that they were refused Greek visas and thus without explanation. They believe that this is due to complication of diplomatic relations between Russia and Greece. However, the leadership of the clergy believes that the problem is less on political but rather on ecclesiastical level.

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, believes that the problems with visas for Russian priests are related to the process of granting a tomos on autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

«We have sent a corresponding note to the Embassy of the Hellenic Republic in Moscow to clarify the situation, confirm or deny or give any explanation on the subject. And we therefore now expect the reaction of the Greek side,» Zakharova said at a briefing in Moscow.

«The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is closely monitoring the situation with issuing visas to Russian citizens, and, of course, any form of discrimination in issuance of visas — whether on a national, professional, religious lines – is unacceptable,» she added.

“This is the policy of the Greek government. Now the priests of the ROC are perceived as potential spies and agents of influence,” a source close to Constantinople said, the BBC’s Russian Service reported on
“The Patriarchate of Constantinople is struggling with the Russian Church for influence in the Orthodox world. The Moscow and Constantinople Patriarchates are in tense relations today because of Ukraine,” a source close to the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church said, Ukrainian news agency unian  wrote on Thursday.
On political level, relations between Athens and Moscow turned tense after Greece expelled two Russian diplomats accusing them of interference in domestic affairs and illegal actions against Greece’s national security.
The Russian diplomats allegedly had funded protests in Northern Greece against the Macedonia Agreement with FYROM.
In retaliation, Russia expelled two Greek diplomats a month later.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Greek Foreign Ministry said among others:

“One ought to read Russia’s decision to expel personnel of the Greek Embassy in Moscow. The decision by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, unlike the Greek side’s decision which was based on specific evidence of illegal and irregular activities of Russian officials and citizens within Greece, was not based on evidence. On the contrary, the Russian side’s decision is arbitrary, retaliatory and not based on any evidence.

We want to remind our Russian friends that no country in the world would tolerate attempts to a) bribe state officials, b) undermine its foreign policy, and c) interfere in its internal affairs.”

Further, the Greek Foreign Ministry accuses “some Russians – fortunately few – who think they can operate in Greece without respecting laws and regulations, and even make threats.”

It refers to “the effort made to impose the presence of the ‘Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society’ in Greece, an organization created by the Czars’ secret services in the 19th century with a view to de-Hellenize the patriarchates of the Middle East.”

With regards to the arbitrary measures taken by the leadership of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Greece will respond with forbearance and sobriety,” the statement concludes.

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