Greek PM hastens Russia visit amid cash crunch
ATHENS - Agence France-Presse
REUTERS PhotoGreek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has brought forward to April a visit to Russia, officials said March 17, as Greece faced mounting pressure from its European creditors and a cash shortage.
Tsipras, a former communist, will visit Moscow a month earlier than scheduled, the government said.
The Greek premier had already planned a Moscow trip on May 9 for Russia's annual Victory Day parade, which this year will commemorate the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat in World War II.
"The prime minister will visit the Kremlin following an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin," a government source said without giving reasons for the change of date.
But Greek daily Ta Nea said it was linked to the cash crunch Athens is facing because it has not received the funds remaining in its 240-billion-euro ($255-billion) EU-IMF rescue package as creditors have demanded to approve first Greece's revised reform plan.
Athens "sought to bring forward" the meeting with Putin owing to "stifling economic conditions caused in the country from the European side," the daily said on Tuesday.
Upon taking office in January, Tsipras immediately set about trying to renegotiate Greece's hugely unpopular EU-IMF bailout, but at the same time his hard-left government has made no secret of seeking closer ties with Russia.
Days after he came to power, Greece protested against a European Union statement threatening further sanctions against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
The new foreign minister Nikos Kotzias later said that the EU should avoid "spasmodic" moves against Russia.
According to reports, Greece is seeking an exemption for its agricultural products from a retaliatory Russian embargo imposed on EU goods last year.
Greece is still locked in discussions with its European and international creditors about its planned reforms, and Tsipras on Monday said he was confident that a European summit later this week would provide a breakthrough.
Tsipras is also hoping that his first visit as prime minister to Berlin next Monday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel will help Athens' cause, and calm an ongoing war of words between Greek and German officials.
On Tuesday, Athens said Tsipras has also asked to meet along with Merkel other key actors in the Greek crisis -- French President Francois Hollande, EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and European Central Bank president Mario Draghi -- on the sidelines of the EU summit which opens Thursday.
Athens has scrambled to raise 6.0 billion euros this month for debt repayment, but it has made little progress on persuading the European Central Bank to allow Greek banks to help out by purchasing state debt.
The ECB is also holding back on 1.9 billion euros in Greek bond profits, until Athens reaches a reform deal with its international creditors.
The debt-wracked country managed on Monday to scrape together over 500 million euros to repay the International Monetary Fund. But it faces another debt deadline Friday when it has to pay over 300 million euros to the IMF, and redeem 1.6 billion euros in treasury bills.
To meet the payments, Athens will auction 1.0 billion euros in three-month treasury bills on Wednesday.
Greece's harshest critic, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble this week warned that a disorderly Greek euro exit or "Grexident" -- playing on the terms "Grexit" and an accident -- could not be excluded.
"To the extent that Greece is solely responsible and decides what is to happen, and we don't know exactly what Greek leaders are doing, we can't exclude it," Schaeuble told Austrian broadcaster ORF.