A visit to Moscow on Wednesday by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, on the eve of a scheduled payment to his country’s European Union creditors, raised new questions about whether Greece might ask Russia for financial support in the face of continued EU pressure to maintain economic austerity measures.
The Greek economy, which suffered more from the Great Recession than most of its European neighbors, has been repeatedly bailed out by loans from other EU members. The conditions were that harsh reforms to government spending be put – and remain – in place. Resentment over the austerity plan, which increased the suffering of the Greek people, brought Tsipras and his Syriza Party to power earlier this year on a promise to undo the measures.
The efforts by Tsipras have been largely stonewalled, however, by Greece’s European creditors, particularly by Germany. That has led to speculation that Athens might turn to non-EU sources for assistance.
Chief among those potential non-EU sources is Russia. But how much aid Moscow could actually provide is a real question. Russia has itself fallen into recession under the double burden of dramatically lower oil revenues and punishing sanctions imposed after its invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last year.
Russia, though, has a significant interest in persuading the Eurozone’s weakest member that it is a potential source of help. The current sanctions regimen, which ends on July 31, can only be extended by a unanimous vote of the European Council. And Tsipras has frequently been on record criticizing the sanctions plan, despite the fact that his government voted for its most recent renewal.
While both Tsipras and Russian President Vladimir Putin said no request for financial assistance had been made during their Wednesday meeting – Tsipras re-stated his opposition to the Russian sanctions.
“We openly disapproved of the sanctions,” he told reporters. “It is not an efficient solution. We think it could bring about a new Cold War between Russia and the West.”
He also pointed out that the counter-sanctions imposed by Russia, which banned agricultural imports from EU countries, had been particularly painful for Greece. About 40 percent of Greece’s exports flow to Russia.
While the economic future of the relationship between Greece and Russia remains unclear, Tsipras struck an optimistic tone. He said it is “springtime for Russian-Greek relations.”
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