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Mitsotakis tells Congress democracy is tested by Russia

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis delivered an address Tuesday to a joint meeting of Congress, highlighting democratic values as NATO allies confront Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Mitsotakis told lawmakers from the House and Senate that their shared values “are once again being tested.”

“Our shared belief in freedom over tyranny, in democracy over authoritarianism, in the fundamental importance of respect for the rule of law over war and anarchy,” he said to applause.

Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mitsotakis 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 US 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 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.

President Joe 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.

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.

The new pipeline connection, called the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, will give Bulgaria access to ports in neighboring Greece that are importing liquefied natural gas, or LNG, and also will bring gas from Azerbaijan through a new pipeline system that ends in Italy. Russia announced last month it was cutting off natural gas exports to Bulgaria and Poland over the countries’ refusal to pay in rubles.

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 US 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.

Mitsotakis, in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday, expressed optimism that Turkey, in the end, won’t hold up Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO and addressed speculation that Erdogan might use the moment to win concessions from the Biden administration on weapons sales or other matters.

“This is not really the right time to use a NATO membership [application] by these two countries to bargain” for other issues, he said.

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.