NICOSIA, Cyprus – Relations between Greece and Russia came under strain Wednesday after Greece's government spokesman suggested that Russian diplomats stationed in the country could be expelled for acting unlawfully and "disrespecting" the Greek state.
Spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that "all measures" will be taken against the Russian diplomats.
"It's not possible for us to accept behavior that violates international law and doesn't show respect to the Hellenic Republic," Tzanakopoulos told private TV station Skai.
"The assessment is that there has been such behavior and that's why all measures will be taken."
The rebuke goes against the grain of the traditionally friendly ties between the two countries.
Tzakakopoulos made the remarks after daily Kathimerini reported that Greece would expel two Russian diplomats and deny entry to two others over what it said were efforts to expand Russian influence in the country.
The report quoted unnamed senior diplomatic sources as saying the matter has been brewing for some time.
Russian officials also allegedly tried to bribe local government officials and senior clergymen and to interfere in negotiations to end Greece's longstanding dispute with neighboring Macedonia over its name.
Greece and Macedonia agreed last month that the former Yugoslav republic should be renamed North Macedonia. Greece had argued the name "Macedonia" implied territorial claims on its province of the same name and usurped its ancient Greek heritage.
In Moscow, the state news agency Tass quoted an unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry official as suggesting that Russia would respond in kind.
"The expulsion of diplomats always leads to tit-for-tat measures," the official said.
Kathimerini named the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society — an organization that promotes Russian ties to Christians in the Middle East — as being among certain groups trying to fan Russian influence in Greece, including in the Greek Orthodox monastic community of Mount Athos.
A representative of the society said it was not involved in any alleged attempts to bribe senior Greek Orthodox clergymen, the Russian state Interfax news agency reported.
"IOPS has nothing to do with this and I don't believe that Russian diplomats or anyone can have anything to do with this," Interfax quoted Sergei Zhitenev, deputy head of IOPS, as saying.
"There were no attempts from our side to influence local authorities, this never even occurred to us."