Alexis Tsipras and Russia – Beware the Greek Bearing Gifts

An article I wrote some weeks ago in which I spoke of Tsipras’s policy to Russia as “frankly manipulative” went down badly with some people (see “Playing Russia and Europe off Against Each Other Is Losing Greece Friends”, Russia Insider, 25th June 2015).

Tsipras’s conduct over the last few weeks has surely put the whole question beyond doubt.

His complete capitulation to Merkel’s demands and his failure to prepare for a Grexit (see “Angela Merkel’s Disastrous Part in the Greek Crisis”, Russia Insider, 14th July 2015), coming directly after a referendum which he called in order to lose, allow for no other interpretation.

Since Tsipras never planned to quit the euro — or to seek alternative sources of funding outside the Eurozone — his approaches to Russia must now be seen for what they were – an attempt to conjure up a Russian scarecrow to scare the Europeans into granting him concessions.

As is now painfully obvious, the bluff was called — as in the absence of serious steps to make it real was bound to happen — leaving Tsipras and Greece cruelly exposed.

The simple truth is that the Greek political class — of which it is now clear Tsipras and Syriza are part — are totally committed to the European project and are incapable of seeking a solution outside it, however terrible the cost.

It should be said that what is true of the Greek political class is not necessarily true of the Greek people as a whole.

It is now clear from the referendum result — which Merkel, Hollande and Rienzi told the Greek people was a referendum on the euro — that they are a lot less committed to the euro than their leaders are.

To those who point to opinion poll results that supposedly confirm an intense commitment on the part of Greeks to hold on to the euro no matter the cost, the short answer is that with Greek politicians and the news media united in wanting Greece to stay in the euro, the debate is never opened up properly in order to give the Greek people a choice.

Instead what the Greek people are constantly told is that they will get an end to austerity within the euro, and that the alternative of quitting the euro will cause Greece to collapse.

They are being lied to even as I write this, with claims that the latest deal offers a promise of an eventual debt write-off, when the text of Monday’s summit statement on the contrary clearly rules that out (see again “Angela Merkel’s Disastrous Part in the Greek Crisis”, Russia Insider, 14th July 2015).  

Tsipras’s supporters are even claiming that Greece won a famous victory at the EU summit by confounding Schauble’s nefarious scheme to expel Greece from the Eurozone and that anybody who therefore opposes the deal must therefore be a stooge of Schauble’s and an enemy of Greece. In Greece Schauble has been so thoroughly monstored by the political class that no one is prepared to say that on the contrary what he proposed was not a plot against Greece but the means for its deliverance.

In some ways the nature of the debate about the euro in Greece is like the debate that took place in Ukraine when the Association Agreement with the EU was being discussed.  

Opinion polls repeatedly appeared that purported to show that a majority of Ukrainians wanted Ukraine to join the EU in preference to joining the Russian-led Eurasian Union. The whole debate about the Association Agreement was then framed on that basis.  

No-one in Ukraine ever said — or told the Ukrainian people — that membership of the EU was not on offer, while membership in the Eurasian Union was.

Until Greece’s political class drops these blindly pro-EU attitudes (what the independent writer Anatoly Karlin has called “a cargo cult”) — or is itself replaced — the prospect of closer ties with Russia will remain ephemeral.  

That there would be strong support for doing that were that ever to happen, is shown by the results of the Greek referendum.  

That did briefly open up the debate – which is why the political class in Greece and the EU leadership were so horrified by it.  

In the event the result was far worse than they expected, showing how quickly opinion in Greece could change if the debate about the country’s choices were finally conducted honestly and openly.

In the meantime, it is now a certainty that the pipeline deal with Gazprom touted by Energy Minister Lafazanis is dead.  

It was always essentially his project and since he is known to oppose the deal Tsipras has just concluded in Brussels his days in the government are numbered. With him gone it will have no more supporters and will quietly be left to die. Besides with Greece now essentially under Merkel’s thumb, she will never let it happen.

As for the Russians, they must be quietly furious at the way Tsipras led them up the garden path, in the process compromising the clear and strong position they took last autumn, that they would not build pipelines on EU territory (see “What Russia Offered Greece”, Russia Insider, 25th June 2015).  

As is their way the Russians have said nothing. They will not however forget what happened, as any future Greek leader winding his way to Moscow looking for help will one day discover.

Leave a comment