Wikistrat: Debt woes unlikely to push Greece into Russia's arms

By Andrei Skvarsky.

It is a natural thought that Greece’s financial woes might force Athens to step up its attempts to obtain help from Russia.

Yet the latest developments make clear that the Greek story is not much more about Greek-Russian relations now than it had been before the June 28 referendum that plunged Greece deeper into crisis.

Experts interviewed by online geopolitical crowdsourced consultancy Wikistrat have explained why they see speculation that Greece is heading into the open arms of Russia as holding no water.

Greece will most likely continue to seek solutions within the European Union, it has not asked Russia for a bailout, and Moscow has not gone a lot further than vague assurances it will consider helping Greece, according to a Wikistrat report entitled “Russia-Greece Relations: Playing a Game of Flirtation”.

The report is based on points by Anna Matveeva and David Svarin of King’s College in London, Tim Foxley, who used to work for Britain’s Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, and Andreas Marazis of Madrid- and Brussels-based think tank Foundation for International Relations and Foreign Dialogue (FRIDE).

Moreover, Moscow wants Greece to be an ally within the EU in seeking retaliation for the sanctions the Union imposes on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, and Athens is unlikely to want to play that role, according to the report.

All four experts mention a memorandum of understanding in which Greece stated an intention to join Turkish Stream, a Russian project to lay a gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey across the Black Sea with the possibility of its extension to Greece and on to other EU countries.

The pipeline would bring Greece hundreds of millions of euros each year in transit fees.

However, Svarin warns that Turkish Stream would not start operating before 2019 and argues that the transit fees would only minimally alleviate Greece’s debt problem, and that it is not entirely clear that the project will materialise in the first place as it is not based on any binding agreement between Turkey and Russia.

Svarin also says that Turkish Stream “in no way represents an attempt by Russia to bail out Greece or to contribute significantly to lessening Greece’s debt burden,” and that it “seems to be an attempt by Moscow to demonstrate to the EU its closeness with Greece and to provoke further tensions among EU member states”.

After the Wikistrat report came out, Russian media said Russia had severed a contract with an Italian company to supply pipes for Turkish Stream.

In February this year, the EUobserver online newspaper quoted European Commissioner for Energy Maros Sefcovic as saying Turkish Stream “won’t work” because of “simple maths” on supply and demand and because of contractual obligations.

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