Is Russia cozying up to Greece? | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 08.04.2015
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Is Russia cozying up to Greece?

In the midst of the debt crisis, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visits Russian President Vladimir Putin. Each hopes the other will use his political weight to sway the EU, observers say.

The Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is convinced that Western sanctions against Russia will eventually catch up to Greek producers. This attitude has not gone unnoticed in Moscow. Observers suspect that sanctions will be one of the most important issues in Wednesday's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

But Greece by itself won't be able to lift the EU sanctions against Russia. There won't be more than talk at the meeting, said Mikhail Krutikhin from the Russian consulting firm RusEnergy.

"Greece doesn't intend to leave the EU," Krutikhin said. "It wants to show not only that it has allies outside the EU, but also solidarity with Brussels to some degree."

But that was enough for the Kremlin, said Mikhail Kasyanov, Russian ex-prime minister and co-chairman of the opposition party RPR-Parnas, in an interview with DW. With Greece not agreeing with the EU's general line, the country has already divided the bloc's unity.

"Putin has isolated himself from the civilized world and has only one goal in this situation: to break up intra-European and transatlantic consolidation," said Kasyanov.

Putin wants the EU to take back its decisions, he said. Then Russia would be left with only one enemy: the United States.

Putin with Greek and Russian flags

Does Putin want to divide Europe?

"Political ruffling"

The Russian leadership has another reason to cozy up to Greece, believes Mikhail Krutikhin.

"Russia has a critical shortage of allies and of state leaders who would be willing to deal with Moscow at the negotiating table. If Russia is already happy with its allies on the Republics of Nauru and Vanuatu, then it's really a dream come true to find someone in Europe who is ready to shake hands with the Russian leadership, " Krutikhin said.

The Greek government apparently wishes for something similar. Krutikhin thinks Tsipras hopes to sway the EU with the Greco-Russian negotiations.

"The talks are supposed to show that Greece has allies and that it would also manage without the help of the EU," Krutikhin said." It gives the impression that both sides want to ruffle each other's feathers politically."

"A loan fraught with difficulties"

Many observers believe that Moscow is trying to secure the loyalty of individual states in Europe through loans. This is not only the case with Greece, but also with Hungary, which recently received a loan from Russia of ten billion euros. In 2011 Cyprus also obtained a 2.5-billion-euro loan from Moscow. And yet, there still are doubts over whether Athens and Moscow on Wednesday will come to a financial agreement.

"A loan would be fraught with certain difficulties. Of course, Russia would not run out of money, but it could cause problems with the reserves," said Russia's former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

International trade expert Alexander Knobel from the Russian Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy said Greece would not be able to ask Moscow for financial support in this context, if the country doesn't want to have a permanent fallout with EU tax authorities.

"I don't believe Greece is up for sale. In the long run, it's bound to the eurozone," said Knobel.

So far, Greece has not asked Moscow for a loan, even though Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov had said in late January that his agency would carefully consider such an application.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras seeks allies

Bilateral energy issues

Tsipras' visit in Moscow could raise energy issues. But Mikhail Krutikhin thinks no crucial arrangements are to be expected in this area.

"Gazprom had once tried to gain control of the Greek natural gas supply network, but this issue is settled - and not in Gazprom's favor," he said.

He also doesn't expect discussions on additional supplies of Russian gas to Greece.

However, it's possible that the Greek Prime Minister will bring detailed proposals to involve Russian companies in tenders for drilling rights on the Greek coast. This idea was brought up by Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis in late March during his visit to Moscow. At that time, the Russian Energy Ministry considered his proposals, but thought they were too vague.

Lower gas prices for Greece?

As a gesture of friendship, Russia could offer Greece reduced gas prices. Last year Moscow had already reduced Gazprom, but that was not enough for Athens, which now asks for further reductions.

What's more, Greek companies could be granted certain advantages, according to Alexander Knobel.

"It wouldn't be a complete lifting of Russian counter-sanctions, but instead exceptions for Greek agricultural raw materials, which would be brought to Russia for processing," he said.

As a lobbyist, Moscow could "feed" the needs within the EU and then use it as a tool to divide the bloc, said Knobel.

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