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Are Alarm Bells Ringing Over Greece's Pivot To Russia?

With German media asking "who is more dangerous for us? Greece or Russia," recent actions by both 'antagonists' in that question suggest they may become one and the same sooner than many expected. With tensions rising between Greece and the Eurogroup, recent and future visits to Russia have gained in importance since Russian FinMin confirmed that Moscow "could consider financial help to Greece." While this Russian pivot meme was the stuff of conspiracy theorists just weeks ago, The BBC is now asking directly, "could Europe lose Greece to Russia?" and with more Greeks positive on Russia (61%) than Europe (23%), it should not shock anyone.

 

Deepening ties between Greece's new government and Russia have set off alarm bells across Europe, as the leaders in Athens wrangle with international creditors over reforms needed to avoid bankruptcy. While Greece may be eyeing Moscow as a bargaining chip, some fear it is inexorably moving away from the West, towards a more benevolent ally, a potential investor and a creditor. As The BBC asks, Europe is not pleased. Should it also be worried?

A drove of Greek cabinet members will be heading to Moscow.

 

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will be hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in May, accompanied by coalition partner Panos Kammenos, defence minister and leader of the populist right-wing Independent Greeks party.

 

The timing has not escaped analysts.

 

Greece's bailout extension expires at the end of June and the worst kept secret in Brussels is that Athens will need new loans to stay afloat.

 

Officially, Greece is not searching for alternative sources of funding.

 

But a loan from Russia, or perhaps China, could seem a more favourable alternative - or at least supplement - to any new eurozone bailout with all its unpopular measures and reforms attached.

 

Greece could look forward to cheaper gas for struggling households, increased Russian investment and tourism to provide a much needed economic boost.

 

Moscow, in return, would be rewarded with a friendly ally with veto power inside the EU at a time of heightened tensions over the Ukraine crisis.

 

...

 

"My feeling is that the Greek government is playing the 'Russian card' in order to improve its bargaining position in the current negotiations," says Manos Karagiannis, a Greece-born specialist on Russian foreign policy at King's College, London.

 

"But it will be very difficult for Athens to distance itself from the EU and Nato."

 

...

 

For Prof Karagiannis, what matters is that Greece is fully integrated into the West, but he warns against underestimating the risks of a Greek exit from the euro.

 

"A Grexit could certainly fuel anti-EU sentiments among the Greek population. And an isolated and weak Greece could jeopardise the stability of the entire region," he says.

 

A weakened country, cast out of the eurozone and possibly the EU, would then be far more open to closer ties with Russia.

*  *  *

Isolated indeed...

 

h/t @KeepTalkingGreece