Greece has taken “the necessary measures to protect its national interest” after “interference” by Russian officials in the name dispute with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, the government said on Wednesday.
“The Greek government wants good relations with all states, but cannot accept attitudes that violate international law and do not respect the Greek authorities,” government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told Skai television channel.
“In this context, measures have been taken,” he added.
Tzanakopoulos did not reveal the “measures” or give further details after a newspaper reported Greece was planning to expel two Russian diplomats and ban two other Russian envoys from entering the country.
A source told AFP “there was a problem of interference in the Macedonian dossier”, while adding that Athens’ traditionally good relations with Russia were unchanged.
The ERT1 public television channel reported that the officials were caught “red handed” last week and arrested.
It said Athens accuses them of having tried to influence the northeastern monastic community of Mount Athos — known for its fierce patriotism — as well as local authorities in the north of the country to launch demonstrations against the agreement with Skopje.
In Moscow, a spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry told AFP: “Tit-for-tat measures will be taken, as is always the case in such situations.”
However, a Greek government source said Athens “maintains channels of communication” with Moscow and that Greece “has no problems”.
She added that unlike many other EU countries, Greece did not expel any Russian diplomats following the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Britain, which London blamed on Moscow.
Athens and Skopje signed an accord last month to resolve the decades-long dispute over the Balkan state’s use of the name Macedonia, which is also the name of a northern Greek province.
The two nations came to an agreement to call the country the Republic of North Macedonia. Approved by the parliament in Skopje, it will next be put to a referendum.