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New Greek Government Stance Could Lead To EU Rift


We have a story this morning that says something about the paralysis of the European Union. A new government in Greece has underlined the difficulty of moving an entire continent in one direction. The leftist government won election protesting the EU's tough austerity measures. Now Greece's new government is speaking out on another issue. Every European Union member state has veto power. And tiny as it is, Greece says it could use its veto to stop further European sanctions on Russia. Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Previous Greek governments have gone along with sanctions in the past despite a close trading relationship with Russia. But the new foreign minister of Greece, Nikos Kotzias, told an Athens radio station earlier this month that Greece will no longer rubberstamp EU foreign policy decisions.


NIKOS KOTZIAS: (Through interpreter) The Germans, the French and the British want to negotiate with countries like Russia but have smaller countries like Greece simply follow their lead. But I say we should have our own policy within the structure of the European Union.

KAKISSIS: Kotzias, a politics professor and former Communist, has criticized a Europe dominated by Germany and advocated for Greece having closer ties with Russia.


KOTZIAS: (Through interpreter) Greece can be a bridge between the European Union and countries like Russia. We share history with Russia. We share religion with Russia. We have had the same battles, the same enemies.

KAKISSIS: Last year, Alexis Tsipras, now the prime minister, echoed Moscow's claim that the government in Ukraine is made up of neo-Nazis. Tsipras and Kotzias visited Moscow last spring and condemned EU sanctions on Russia. EU foreign ministers meet today to consider communique to broaden sanctions. But the new Greek government claims the communique was never shared with them says Alexandra Voudouri, diplomatic correspondent for Athens Municipal Radio.

ALEXANDRA VOUDOURI: It seems that there has been a problem, especially with the way the communique was circulated within the member states. And Athens has a real problem with that.

KAKISSIS: The EU says Greece was consulted. But the leftists have been in power less than a week, and there's been confusion as they put together a government. There's speculation that Greece would try to use its veto on Russia sanctions as a bargaining chip to force Germany to lighten the Greek debt load. But that's not the case, Voudouri says.

VOUDOURI: In fact, government sources have said that Greece would not try to link EU-Russia policy and Greece's quest for financial oxygen. These are two separate issues.

KAKISSIS: The new Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, wrote on his blog today that the government has made no decisions on sanctions yet. It simply wants to be respected, he wrote, and consulted on major decisions. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.