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News Analysis: How Syriza's Win Could Change EU Policy On Russia

Will Syriza and party leader Alexis Tsipras change once they are in power?
Will Syriza and party leader Alexis Tsipras change once they are in power?

BRUSSELS -- The election win by Greece's far-left Syriza party has focused attention on the impact that a potential "Grexit" could have on the eurozone economies.

But equally important is the effect this watershed victory could have on EU foreign policy -- especially in relation to Russia and its neighbors.

A look at how Syriza members in the European Parliament have voted on foreign-policy resolutions related to Russia and the Eastern Partnership countries in recent months gives an indication of where things could be headed.

Syriza members of the European Parliament voted against the Association Agreement with Ukraine in the autumn of 2014, which was supported by the majority of the Strasbourg chamber. They also abstained in the vote on Association Agreements for Georgia and Moldova, as well as in supporting a resolution condemning the closing of the Russian human rights NGO Memorial.

Other legislation Syriza deputies opposed included two recent resolutions drafted by the European Parliament that called for more sanctions on Moscow, condemning Russia's actions in Ukraine such as the annexation of Crimea and Moscow's support for separatists in the eastern part of the country.

Even a fairly low-key law on renewing EU-Ukraine cooperation on science and technology was opposed by the Greek party. In fact, the only Eastern Partnership-related item in the European Parliament that Syriza favored was granting EU trade preferences to Moldova.

The big question now is how a Syriza-led Greece will respond to the sanctions the EU has already imposed on Moscow. Visa bans and asset freezes on Ukrainian separatists and Russian politicians must be renewed in March and the broader economic sanctions targeting the Russian finance and oil sectors are up for extension in June and July.

All 28 EU member states must agree if the measures are to be renewed. And judging from recent comments made by Syriza's firebrand leader, Alex Tsipras, Greece might be prepared to break the consensus.

Tsipras has said that sanctions on Russia harm Europe. His party's foreign-affairs spokesman, Costas Isychos, even went as far last autumn as hailing the "impressive counterattacks" of the Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine. Tsipras himself came out in support of internationally unrecognized referendums in the separatist-held territory in Ukraine.

Even before Syriza's win, Greece's government was lukewarm on Russian sanctions. Two-way trade between Russia and Greece was worth 7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) in 2013 and a plummeting ruble is likely to prevent many Russians from taking their holidays in Greece, where tourism is the country's biggest moneymaker.

The EU's big hope is that Syriza will soften its stance when it gets into power. And there are signs that Syriza has become more moderate the closer to power it has come. Its 2013 manifesto called for a Greek NATO pullout and for the ejection of the U.S. Navy from a base on the Greek island of Crete. Such talk has now been toned down.

The question remains if there will be a similar climb-down on Russia sanctions.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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