And if Europe cuts Greece loose, Russia may fill the void there as well. There are close cultural ties between these Orthodox countries, and both are like to join in a feeling of bitterness and exclusion vis-à-vis the West.
Americans often don’t “get” the Russia-Greek connection. In Ottoman times, Orthodox Russia was the protector of Orthodox Christians in the great Islamic empire and frequently used its diplomatic clout to defend the rights of its co-religionists. Greece looked to Russia as a reliable ally during much of the troubled period after modern Greece gained independence from the Turks.
The feeling is reciprocal. Russia received the gospel from Greek Christians. The Russian tsars married into the Byzantine royal house; the word tsar (or czar) is the Russian form of Caesar, indicating the strong Russian sense that Orthodox Moscow, after the fall of Constantinople, was the “Third Rome.” Much of modern Russian identity and sense of a unique place in the world is wrapped up in its civilizational connection with Byzantine culture and religion.
Mount Athos, the center of Orthodox monasticism and the spiritual heart of Greece, looms large in Russia. No less a person than President Vladimir Putin has made pilgrimages to this site.
There are other connections as well. Much of the Russian oligarchy’s money has been moved through Greek Cyprus, where the banking system has long been very close to post-Communist Moscow.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Walter Russel Meade: