April 2015

The visit by the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Moscow on Wednesday had caused much angst in the European capitals that he aimed at striking a Faustian deal with the Kremlin to secure aid as quid pro quo for breaking ranks over the European Union sanctions on Russia (over Ukraine) and to pile up pressure on its EU partners to release financing to ease Greece’s debt crisis. In the event, none of this happened in quite that expected fashion.

What turned out is that Greece may have become the newest regional state aspiring to augment its “strategic autonomy” by pressing independent foreign policies and creating space for itself to negotiate more optimally in an increasingly polycentric world order.

At the joint press conference with Tsipras in Moscow yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin flatly denied that the visiting Greek prime minister asked for any aid as such. But then, Putin also described the talks with Tsipras as “substantive, constructive and very open.”

Indeed, you can call “aid” by some other name as well — trade and investment, for instance . On the one hand, Russia seems willing to give Greece funds based on future profits earned from allowing the transit of Russian gas via the proposed “Turkish Stream” pipeline taking Russian gas via Turkey to Greece and onward to countries of southern Europe.

On the other hand, Athens would also benefit out of the reduced price at which Russia may be willing to sell gas to Greece. This is how Putin framed the matrix: “These projects [Turkish Stream] could create possibilities for us to not only provide loans for the plans we discussed today, but also to settle credit relations in the broader context of these projects’ implementation. To make this clearer, let me explain. If we carry out a big project that will generate revenue for Greece, part of these revenues could be used to pay off the possible loans I mentioned. In other words, what we are talking about is not assistance but cooperation, including in the financial sector, in relation to specific large projects.”

Then, Putin went on, there could always be other modes whereby Russian funds could flow into the Greek economy:

“Regarding Russian companies’ possible participation in the privatisation of particular industrial or infrastructure facilities in Greece, let me say again that if the Greek government decides to carry out privatisations in Greece, in the Greek economy, we are ready to take part in the bids. We hope that if this does go ahead, Russian companies will take part under the same conditions as other bidders. We ask for nothing more than this.

“Do we have an interest in investing in Greece? Yes, we do, above all in the infrastructure sector, ports, airports, pipeline systems, but not this sector alone. We are also ready to continue working in the energy sector, in energy generation and supply of energy resources, and in industry. There is a range of sectors that could be of mutual interest. The Prime Minister and I discussed all of this today in considerable detail.”

No doubt Moscow is taking care it does not tread on the EU’s sensitivities at a juncture when Russia-EU are evolving and are at a delicate stage with regard to the crisis in Ukraine. Besides, Russia cannot but take note that German sensitivities too are involved, given the nasty row that has broken out over the latest sensational demand by Athens for $302 billion Nazi reparations from Berlin. This is one thing.

Having said that, Russia also appreciates that the present Greek leadership has taken a stance that disapproves of the EU’s sanctions policies toward Russia over Ukraine. It is in Russia’s interests, therefore, that Tsipras’ capacity to pursue an independent foreign policy is strengthened.

Putin is walking a fine line – and so indeed Tsipras. This is a Sirtaki tapdance that would make Zorba feel proud in its sheer exuberance and seductive rhythm. Any outright Russian move to bail out the Greek economy when it is under pressure from Germany and EU would have appeared as a Russian ploy to create disharmony within the Eurozone. But, Russia is finding other means to help the Greek economy tide over the present crisis.

In a medium and long term, of course, Greece is an important partner country for Russia for a variety of reasons that one doesn’t go into here, especially given the fact that Athens is a hugely important hub of the western alliance system. In ideological terms, the present left-wing government in Athens has deep affinities with the impulses that are currently driving Russian policies and, suffice it to say, Moscow would regard it to be in its self-interest go the extra league to strengthen the “strategic autonomy” of the Greek leadership of Tsipras within the western alliance system.

There is a real possibility that Greece (along with Italy, Austria, Slovakia, Cyprus, and Hungary) could force a change the EU policy on Russia. Yet, Tsipras is also trying to rope in the U.S. as an honest broker to help resolve Greece’s tensions with the Eurozone. Xinhua news agency has an insightful commentary on the utterly fascinating four-way tango involving Greece with Russia, U.S. and the EU.

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

Tagged with Greek debt crisis, New Cold War, Polycentric world order, Russia-Germany, Turkish Stream pipeline.

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By M K Bhadrakumar – April 9, 2015


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