THE BLOG

Athens-Moscow: An (Un)orthodox Alliance?

20/04/2015 16:39 BST | Updated 18/06/2015 10:59 BST

Shortly before Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met Vladimir Putin in Moscow on his first official visit to Russia, the Financial Times published an article reporting the overtly anti-democratic suggestion that many officials, including some eurozone finance ministers, have put forward for the resolution of the problems in Greece. If a bailout agreement is to be made possible, the unnamed officials stated, Tsipras will have to ditch the far-left component of his coalition and opt for a re-alignment with the center-left forces of Pasok. If the word "democracy" hadn't been already emptied of its essential meaning, such a statement - one that blatantly proposes ignoring the will of the Greek electorate - would have triggered some sort of reaction. But in a continent where the distinction between financial and political forces is a very fine line, the very idea that a nation's political sovereignty can be disrupted at will is apparently not that outlandish.

Far from surrendering to the institutional blackmail of the Troika, Alexis Tsipras, while in Moscow, has reiterated that his country is not a "debt colony" and remains a "sovereign" nation. He also took the opportunity to stress the many aspects that link Greece to Russia, from their shared religion, Orthodox Christianity, to the common fight against fascism that ideologically united them 70 years ago. Yet behind the ceremonious formalities that choreograph every diplomatic junket, a geopolitical awareness on the side of Greece regarding its strategic position in the Mediterranean can be clearly deduced. Neither Athens nor Moscow wants Greece to break away from NATO or the European Union. Quite the contrary, Greece could function as a conciliatory bridge, both political and economic, between Europe and Russia at a time when the relationship between these two powers is rather tense.

In an attempt to curb the Russophobic hysteria that agitates the waters of the Atlantic, Tsipras has in fact declared that the sanctions imposed on Russia are "a road to nowhere," a declaration not devoid of a certain self-interest yet much-needed in a public debate where certain positions are de facto unacceptable. Unsurprisingly, and unlike with his European counterparts, Tsipras found in Putin a most receptive interlocutor. The Russian president warmly welcomed Athens' invitation to step up economic cooperation between the two countries. Furthermore, Greece will take part in the Turkish Stream project with its own pipeline that will bring Russian gas from the Turkish border to Macedonia, from whence it will continue to Hungary via Serbia.

Gazprom, Russia's biggest gas company, is also interested in the deposits beneath the Ionian sea, while the Greek government is also open to having Russia take part in joint ventures (with a golden share for Athens) in the privatization of some infrastructures projects. The port of Thessaloniki, a privileged access to the Mediterranean, is very likely to be on Putin's list. No loans have been asked for ("We're not beggars," clarified Tsipras), as Putin has officially confirmed that no financial requests were brought forward. What has been granted is the lifting of countersanctions Russia imposed on Europe in response to those that were imposed on Russia (Cyprus and Hungary are included in the list of beneficiaries).

The day Tsipras met the Russian president in Moscow, The New York Times ran a front page headline reading "Waving Cash, Putin Sows E.U. Divisions in an Effort to Break Sanctions," effectively blaming Russia for destabilizing diplomatic relations within Europe, a laughable claim given the American efforts to hijack the Minsk II negotiations that are vital to the stability of both Russia and Europe.

The significance of Tsipras' visit to the Kremlin lies in fact not in its supposedly provocative nature, but on the contrary in its pragmatic attempt to re-establish diplomatic relations with Russia (a vital economic asset to the whole of Europe). It is worth noting that Greece's willingness to deal with "the devil" is not an exclusive prerogative of the current, left-wing government. Former center-right Greek premier Kostas Karamanlis had previously attempted to establish economic and diplomatic relations with Russia but eventually desisted under international and internal pressures.

The fiscal stranglehold the Troika has imposed on Athens is loose enough for Greece to survive but tight enough so that the southern European nation cannot move. If anything, Tsipras' recent move proves that the current Greek government is still determined to not blindly follow the financial orthodoxy of the Troika as it actively looks for alternative solutions to exit the devastating economic crisis while remaining within the eurozone. Theirs is therefore a willingness "to make compromises," as Greece Finance Minister Yannis Varoufakis declared, but "not to be compromised."

This article has been previously published on China.org.cn