Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram Relations between Greece and Russia have entered an unprecedented shaky ground since the deportation of two Russian diplomats from Greece over accusations of trying to bribe officials and foment demonstrations to whip up opposition to the Macedonia name deal that paved the way for Skopje’s induction to NATO. Two more diplomats were banned from entering the country, apparently facing the same accusations.This led to a war of words between the two countries. On Wednesday, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that “such things do not remain without consequences” and claimed that third countries were behind Athens’ decision.Greece, she said, should “communicate with their Russian partners, and not suffer from dirty provocations, into which, unfortunately, Athens was dragged.”The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a response, saying her statements “are a characteristic example of disrespect for a third country, and a lack of understanding of today’s world, in which states, regardless of their size, are independent and can exercise an independent, multidimensional and democratic foreign policy.”“Unsubstantiated claims to the effect that this decision was taken following pressure from third parties are unworthy of comment, and indicate a mindset of people who do not understand the principles and values of Greek foreign policy,” it said.The announcement also added that “such negative reasoning, in fact, is what led four Russian citizens to take actions that led to their expulsion or their ban from entering Greece … the evidence by which Greece acted has been presented to Russian authorities in a timely manner. At any rate, Russian authorities themselves have very good knowledge of what their people do,” the statement read.The incident has put the long-standing ties between the two countries under stress, particularly since Moscow summoned the Greek ambassador the week before.Russia has been dismissing accusations of meddling in Greece’s domestic affairs; Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement claimed that no evidence to support accusations has been presented by Greece and accused Washington of being “behind the anti-Russian decision of the government of Greece.”This accusation is largely based on a tweet by US Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert saying: “We support Greece defending its sovereignty. Russia must end its destabilising behaviour.”Although few details have emerged from official ‘lips’ in Athens, detailed press reports claim that the pair of Russian diplomats were engaged in efforts to drum up opposition in northern Greece.According to various sources, the diplomats were offering monetary rewards in an effort to influence municipalities, and metropolitans in the Greek Orthodox hierarchy, but also to gain influence in Mount Athos.According to a report in a Financial Times article, bylined by the paper’s veteran correspondent in Athens, Kerin Hope, the two Russian diplomats were suspected of cooperating with local businesspeople in order to bribe state officials in the Evros prefecture, Orthodox church clergymen, members of cultural organisations and “far-right” groups in northern Greece – all with the aim of scrapping the agreement between Athens and Skopje.“For Greece to kick out Russian officials is all the more extraordinary, and not just because of the cultural and religious affinities between the two countries. Greece is also governed by a far-left party that once enjoyed warm ties with the Kremlin,” was the quote from the FT article.The same claims were made in FYROM, where protests against the deal were also fierce.According to FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, his government has received multiple reports that “Greek businessmen” who are “sympathetic to the Russian cause” paid locals amounts ranging from $13,000 to $21,000 to “commit acts of violence”.In an interview with mainstream media website BuzzFeed News, the PM argued on Friday that his country suspects a Greek Russian billionaire bribed protesters with the intention to undermine the outcome of the much anticipated referendum that will determine whether FYROM will be able join NATO later this year.Reports have allegedly gathered evidence uncovering PAOK president and former Russian lawmaker Ivan Savvidis being a key player in what is described as a massive scheme run by Russian Greek businessmen to incite violence that will prevent the Balkan state from entering the NATO alliance.According to the accusations, Savvidis appears to have distributed more than $350,000 to FYROM politicians, nationalist organisations, and soccer fans to cause turmoil.A soccer hooligan involved in violent demonstrations against the deal in June confirmed to the Investigative Reporting Lab that he had received payments, BuzzFeed News reported.The Interior Ministry documents revealing the scheme have been reviewed by BuzzFeed News‘ reporting partners, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Investigative Reporting Lab Macedonia.Savvidis, a dual citizen of Greece and Russia, used to own the latter’s state tobacco company before acquiring Northern Greek soccer club PAOK FC. The controversial businessman who hit international headlines earlier this year for getting into a fight during a soccer game while carrying a gun is reportedly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.Savvidis categorically denied that he’s behind attempts to block the agreement between Athens and Skopje to solve the ‘name issue’, which still prevents a full normalisation of relations.“We want to make it unequivocally clear that businessman Ivan Savvidis has no whatsoever involvement or relationship (in the matter), as stated in the absolutely false and extremely libelous article,” Savvidis’ Dimera Group, his holding company, said in a statement.Up until recently, Savvidis was believed to be one of the businessmen who had strong ties with the government, but now the sentiment is that he has stronger ties with Putin’s Russia, which has been loathed to see NATO expand, especially at the expense of its influence in the region, something ensured by the Greece-FYROM deal.