Putin’s Greek Pivot


"Vladimir Putin in Greece 6-9 December 2001-14" by Kremlin.ru.

“Vladimir Putin in Greece 6-9 December 2001-14” by Kremlin.ru.

Moscow, Russia (TFC) – Russia and Greece have historically had close cultural ties due to their shared orthodox faith, but since the financial crisis of the late 2000s, those ties have grown into a tight economic and strategic relationship. This partnership seems more symbiotic than the neo-colonial attempts at “diplomacy” that western superpowers are so keen on employing, sprouting little criticism from either side. What does a stronger Russian-Greek team mean internationally? 

Perhaps the more apt question is about the elephant in the room: What if Greece leaves the Eurozone? Many commentators see it as a wildcard for global trade, but the benefits domestically for Greece are hard to ignore. Many Eurozone countries are suffering from low employment, slow economic recovery, and protest-worthy austerity measures. In a region where so many states are suffering economically, would you really want your economic fate attached to them inextricably? Probably not. Greece wouldn’t be alone as a European country outside the Eurozone; they’d just have one more thing in common with Switzerland, Ukraine, Norway, and Serbia (among others). There isn’t an official Eurozone procedure for when a member wants to quit, however, the unofficial procedure is something along the lines of dozens of banking professionals frantically conference calling each other and their investors, promising their money is still there and politely requesting that they not ask too many questions about how much will be lost through Greek bond holdings being reclaimed.

Greece has a young, albeit robust, history of trade with Russia. Beginning in the ’90s, the two countries along with Bulgaria negotiated to form the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline. However, in 2009 amid fierce criticism from Burgas citizens, the Bulgarian PM pulled out of the deal months before construction was scheduled to begin. This wouldn’t stop the deal from going through entirely; they merely rerouted the pipeline through Turkey, whose government was more than willing to participate. To ice the cake, Russia has promised to send 47bn cubic meters of oil to Greece should the pipeline be completed. For that much oil, you could convince Britain to leave the EU.

It’s obvious none of this is lost on Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, who has complained to Putin that EU sanctions on Greece are comparable to economic warfare. Tsipras’ latest visit to Moscow was lauded by critics as being political theater, implying a bluff in the presentation of the visit as friendly or useful. However, even if there were no direct results to the visit, it’s set a clear precedent for other countries feeling strangled by EU regulations and sanctions that they shouldn’t feel trapped in the Eurozone.

Greece isn’t the only one with something to gain from this. While Russia isn’t gaining any literal ground, an established ally in the EU and Eurozone gives them much more to work with at the gambling table. It’s framing sanctions against Russia as aggression against the good neighbor. Even more strategically relevant is Greece’s location at the heart of the Mediterranean, effectively bordering not just Russia’s ally Turkey, but many other volatile states of huge geopolitical significance, such as Libya, Egypt, Israel, and Syria. Developing a solid political foothold in both Europe and the Mediterranean in a single move will cement Russia’s relevance throughout the continent, guaranteeing that no major decision in the region will be made without their insight. Whether this growing partnership between the two countries is more representative of an Asia-pivot escape plan for Greece or a political maneuver by Russia is unclear. However, it’s abundantly clear that this new dimension to the geopolitical arena will send a deep ripple throughout the region.