Greek PM goes to Moscow amid raised eyebrows in Europe

Greek PM goes to Moscow amid raised eyebrows in Europe

“We are equal partners in the European Union. While sticking to its rules, we, too, have the right to reinforce our relations with any third country, as long as this is in the interest of our country,” Nikos Kotzias, the Greek foreign minister, stated in February, one month after the new leftist government of Syriza was elected to power. 

Trying to keep the country afloat against a constant pressure from its creditors – the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – the government of Syriza-Anel, appears squeezed and desperate to find a solution. Some differences of opinion have started to surface inside Syriza over the next step in relations with Europe: should Greece go for a clash or an “honorable compromise” and try to win approval from its creditors for a minimum list of its election promises? And as new Prime Minister Alexi Tsipras, who has proved the biggest asset of the government retaining one of the highest popularity ratings achieved by any of his predecessors, the scenario of a new election asking for a renewed mandate, is again being discussed among the ultimate options.

According to the worst predictions – which come mainly from analyses in the European press – this week may be the week that Greece runs out of money. The reason being that while the Europeans have not approved the list of reforms proposed by the new Greek government, Greece needs to pay an installment of almost half a million euros to its third creditor, the IMF. Although the Greek government is denying any cash flow problem and assures that it will service all its commitments to its creditors, a call for an urgent meeting by Greek Economy Minister Yianis Varoufakis to the head of the IMF last night in the United States may provide a more accurate answer.

And here is where the trip to Moscow comes onto the agenda. Tsipras will visit Moscow at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin this week. It will be his next foreign trip after his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. His trip has already stirred controversy among European leaders who see this trip as a threat to their common stance against Russia on the issue of Ukraine.

“Whoever wishes to have help from Europe, should point his compass toward Brussels and not toward Moscow,” Gunther Krichbaum, the president of the European affairs committee of the German parliament, is quoted as saying by Der Spiegel magazine. Officials in Brussels have adopted a more conciliatory tone, claiming that there may be an agreement soon with the Greek government and that the money may start to flow. Some European voices, though, do point out that Greece has a huge interest in exporting its agricultural products that were hit after the recent sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia.

Kotzias believes that even a small state can take advantage of global changes so that it can at certain times follow an independent foreign policy according to its national interest. Greece may follow a multidimensional foreign policy while belonging to Europe, seems to be the motto of Tsipras government and this week’s official visit to Moscow will be followed by a visit to Beijing later on this month.

Can Greece expect money from Russia? Most probably not, but even if it could, Greek analysts warn that it may be a high-risk move as it would not only alienate Greece from its European partners but it would cause irritation in the United States, which so far has been an advocate for the Europeans easing the debt burden on Greece. Besides, the IMF is one of the creditors of Greece and most of all, Greece is a member of NATO.

So, we should see how Greece’s new foreign policy concepts of “checks and balances” will be applied for the benefit of the country’s survival.