Greek leader tells Congress democracy is tested by Russia

May 17, 2022, 8:53 AM | Updated: 3:21 pm
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and Vice President Kamala Harris, left, listen ...

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and Vice President Kamala Harris, left, listen as Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis delivers remarks to a joint session of Congress, Tuesday, May 17, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the U.S. Congress on Tuesday their shared belief in “freedom over tyranny, in democracy over authoritarianism” is being tested as he focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mitsotakis used his address to a joint meeting of Congress to call out the “heroism of the underdog” of Ukrainians fighting the Russian invasion and the “importance of taking sides” to be on the right side of history.

“We took sides. Unequivocally. We stand by Ukraine against Putin’s aggression,” he said to a standing ovation from the American lawmakers.

“He will not succeed,” Mitsotakis said of Putin. “He must not succeed. Not only for the sake of Ukraine, but also in order to send a message to all authoritarian leaders that historical revisionism and open acts of aggression that violate international law will not be tolerated.”

The Greek leader was in Washington this week to mark a COVID-delayed commemoration of the bicentennial of the start of the Greek War of Independence that led to the ouster of the Ottoman Empire. His trip is aimed at reinforcing his country’s strong energy and defense cooperation with the United States at a time of global unrest.

In inviting him to make the address, Pelosi noted the “unshakable bond” between the two countries as the U.S. founders drew on the ancient Greek ideals of liberty and democracy. “Our nations are key allies on the world stage,” Pelosi said.

“As our world faces a pivotal moment in the fight between the forces of democracy and autocracy, the transatlantic alliance remains vital to the future of freedom in the world,” she said.

But the celebratory moment was shadowed by the most significant fighting on the continent since World War II, and as President Joe Biden seeks to keep the West unified as it pressures Russia to end the war.

The Mitsotakis government has been outspoken in its criticism of the Russian invasion, now in its 12th week. The war in Ukraine, however, has also unsettled Greek policymakers as a possible source of wider regional instability and an opportunity for neighboring Turkey to seek diplomatic leverage from its major western allies.

Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mitsotakis drew on the shared values and beliefs of the two counties, noting when he visits the Lincoln Memorial or drives by the Supreme Court with its inscriptions of “Equal Justice Under Law,” he is reminded of the Greek ideals and his country’s own fight for independence 200 years ago.

“In a word, democracy,” Mitsotakis said.

Mitsotakis said Greeks and others had been naive in ignoring the flashing warning signs of Putin’s past aggression, including seizing Crimea, believing in a postwar peace in Europe. “We now know that we were wrong,” he said. Instead, Greeks with long historical ties to the besieged Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Odessa were “horrified and appalled” at the violence just 500 miles to their north in southern Ukraine.

“Let me be very clear, we have no animus toward the Russian people,” he said. “But we cannot, cannot be indifferent to a struggle that reminds us so much of our own.”

Biden welcomed Mitsotakis to the White House on Monday and thanked for his country’s “moral leadership” in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the two held talks about the ongoing conflict.

Biden praised Greece for showing “moral clarity” by quickly imposing sanctions against Russia following the Feb. 24 invasion, providing Kyiv with military assistance and taking in Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict.

“We’re helping Ukrainians say no to Russian aggression,” Biden said. “And we’re saying no to tyranny, to the idea that autocracies will outpace democracies in the 21st century, because that’s what is at stake here in my view.”

As Europe looks to wean itself off Russian energy, Mitsotakis has pushed the idea of Greece becoming an energy hub that can bring gas, as well as renewable energies, produced in southwest Asia, the Middle East and Africa to eastern Europe.

“Greece plans to play an important role as a gateway for electricity produced from cheap, renewable sources,” Mitsotakis said on Monday.

A new Greece-to-Bulgaria pipeline — built during the COVID-19 pandemic, tested and due to start commercial operation in June — is slated to bring large volumes of gas flow between the two countries in both directions to generate electricity, fuel industry and heat homes.

Greece, a fellow NATO nation, last week formally extended its bilateral military agreement with the United States for five years, replacing an annual review of the deal that grants the U.S. military access to three bases in mainland Greece as well as the American naval presence on the island of Crete.

Mitsotakis has expressed support for Finland and Sweden seeking membership in the NATO defense alliance, a development welcomed by much of the 30-nation group with the notable exception of Tukey, which remains locked in a decades-old dispute with Greece on sea boundaries and mineral rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

In addition to his address to Congress, Mitsotakis is scheduled Tuesday to be honored at a luncheon hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and will meet with members of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

___

Associated Press writer Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this report.

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Greek leader tells Congress democracy is tested by Russia