Europe-watchers understood immediately that the new leftist Syriza-led government in Greece could shatter the European Union's fragile solidarity condemning Russian aggression in Ukraine.
But recently leaked e-mails are revealing some of the extent and duration of Syriza's ties with Kremlin-connected Eurasianist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin and Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, who is believed to have bankrolled much of the separatist movement in Ukraine.
Anton Shekhovtsov, a researcher who studies far-right politics in Europe, says that sympathy for Russia by Syriza and its coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks party, goes far beyond the norm for Greece.
"Pro-Russian sentiment is quite widespread in Greece overall," Shekhovtsov says. "But these two parties -- their foreign policy is overtly, openly pro-Russia. And the fact that the new government's prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, his first contacts were with the ambassador of Russia in Greece, that means probably they will be trying to establish more significant cooperation with Russia."
In December 2014, a Russian hacker group named Shaltai Boltai released a trove of e-mails taken from Georgy Gavrish, a close friend of Dugin's and an official in Dugin's Eurasia movement. Many of the e-mails relate to efforts by Dugin and Malofeyev to create a circle of European politicians and intellectuals sympathetic to Russia.
Several dozen of the e-mails reveal conversations between Gavrish and people inside Syriza, says Christo Grozev, a media investor and blogger specializing in information issues in eastern Europe.
The messages show "very close cooperation on strategy, on PR, and so on," Grozev says. He says that Syriza consultants would send "strategic memoranda" on party positions and policies to Dugin and Gavrish for their comments and suggestions.
Gavrish lived in Greece for several years until about 2013. "Over those five years, he [Gavrish] served, apparently, as a proxy for Dugin to find like-minded or susceptible politicians and public figures in Greece to engage with Dugin's ideology of Eurasianism versus Atlanticism," Grozev says.
One of the people involved in the exchanges is Nicolas Laos, a Greek intellectual and Syriza adviser with business ties to Russia. He is a partner of the Russian corporate-security firm R-Tekhno.
In one leaked e-mail, Laos writes to Dugin, "I know very well how the enemy works, and, under your patronage, I can strike back effectively and hard."
Another message apparently refers to Panos Kammenos, head of the Independent Greeks party and now Greece's new defense minister. The October 25, 2014, message -- written by influential blogger Dimitris Konstantakopoulos, who was apparently doing strategy consultation for Syriza -- discusses the Athens-based Institute of Geopolitical Studies, which Kammenos founded with his friend, University of Thrace professor Filippos Tsalidis.
"Panos appeared almost one month ago full of 'enthusiasm,' asking for regular cooperation. And then he went to Moscow for personal reasons, as he told us (for a friend's wedding) and then disappeared from the face of the Earth in a quite impressive manner. I am very curious if I will ever know what reasons he will give for disappearing," the message says.
One month after the message was written, Kammenos's institute signed a "memorandum of understanding" with the influential Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI). RISI was part of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) until it was brought under the office of the Russian president in 2009. Its director, Leonid Reshetnikov, is a retired SVR lieutenant general.
Dugin is also tied to Greece's new foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias. In April 2013, Kotzias -- then a professor at the University of Piraeus -- invited Dugin to give a lecture on International Politics and the Eurasianist Vision. During that lecture, Dugin said that Greece should not join the Russia-led Eurasian Union, but instead should play a role "in the re-creation of the architecture of Europe" and form an "eastern pole of European identity" within the EU together with Serbia and others.
'A Fascist Program'
Dugin has been engaged in such activity across Europe for many years, says Andreas Umland, a professor at Kyiv's Mohyla Academy. "He is closely connected already for more than 20 years with a whole variety of right-wing intellectuals in France, Italy, Belgium, Great Britain," Umland says. "He is reading them and they read him. Some of his books have been translated. It is not a very public sort of activity because it is more in the realm of publishing, pseudo-academia, intellectual circles, and elite discourse."
Those efforts gained fairly little traction until Dugin joined forces with billionaire Konstantin Malofeyev, a conservative Russian Orthodox nationalist. On February 20, 2014, Dugin wrote Malofeyev a memo identifying key potential partners in Western Europe on both the political left and right, including representatives of Syriza.
Grozev says Dugin encouraged Malofeyev to "engage with" these figures "in order to create an 'elite club' of politicians, as [Dugin] calls it, supporting the Russian line." Dugin's memo stresses that either he personally or one of his representatives has met with each person on the list to discuss "their participation in an organizational and/or informational initiative along pro-Russian lines."
At the end of May 2014, Dugin and Malofeyev hosted representatives of some of these movements at a secret conference in Vienna, according to media reports.
At that meeting, researcher Shekhovtsov says, Dugin and Malofeyev "met with representatives of the Austrian Freedom Party, of Bulgarian Ataka, of the French Front Nationale. All of these are far-right parties."
"So they have been trying to get -- already together, not Dugin alone -- to build those links in order to promote Russian foreign policy," he adds.
Grozev stresses that there are no direct references to Dugin or Malofeyev providing funding or material support to Syriza or any of the other parties. However, he notes that Dugin and Gavrish often include people close to Malofeyev in the recipient lists of their e-mails.
One of the Malofeyev associates whose name appears most frequently is Aleksei Komov, an Orthodox businessman who is the Russian representative on the conservative World Congress of Families. In February 2014, Komov gave a speech at the National Press Club in Washington at which he blamed "Wall Street bankers" for imposing communism on Russia.
Grozev says that he has been surprised by the extent of the "mysticism" he sees in the correspondence between the Greeks and Dugin's people. Nicolas Laos and Gavrish, particularly, are constantly talking about alleged Freemasons "within the Greek political environment who are, by definition, according to them, the biggest enemies of the Russian line."
The details of the ideology are confused and contradictory. Umland describes Dugin's vision as "a radical form of anti-Westernism" that ultimately comes down to "a fascist program."
"He is a fascist," Umland says of Dugin. "He promotes an ideology that comes down to a rebirth of the Russian nation as a new Eurasian nation and a total restructuring both of world politics and Russian domestic politics. He has praised the SS in the past. He has made ambivalent statements about the Third Reich, Italian fascism, German Nazism. He sees himself also in a fascist tradition."
Diana Mikhaelyan contributed to this story