Greece is flirting with Russia to make Europe jealous

Putin loveReuters/Eduard KorniyenkoPublic Display of Affection (PDA) sends a message to everyone else.

Over the last few months, Greece and Russia have exhibited a serious case of PDA at a time when both countries are somewhat at odds with the EU.

Most recently, in June, Russia signed a preliminary $US2.27 billion deal to build a pipeline through Greece, and Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras made his second trip to Russia in the last three months — all while Greece is in the middle of negotiating its future in Europe.

Some analysts have suggested that this Russo-Hellenic flirtation means that Moscow is pulling Athens into its long-term geo-strategic orbit. However, it may also be that the two countries are using each other for short-term gains.

“Both parties benefit from the [EU-Greece] negotiations themselves, making tactical gains at minimal cost or risk,” according to a report by Wikistrat.

“Greece gets to pressure the EU with the threat of moving closer to Moscow, facilitating a favourable conclusion to debt restructuring negotiations, and Russia gets to cause tension among EU members, serving its agenda for Ukraine.”

Putin greece russiaReutersPutin and Tsipras.

Back in January, when Greece took a stand against sanctions on Russia,analystsbelieved that the Hellenic Republic did so in order to have a bargaining chip against the EU in its ultimate quest for a debt write-off. Similarly, today, Greece might be playing the Russia card in an effort to have some leverage over the EU.

On the Russian side, “the recent Moscow-Athens dialogue has given a boost to Russia’s soft power and made headlines across the world,” writes Anna Matveeva, a visiting senior research fellow at the Department of War Studies of King’s College London. “It has signalled that Putin and his government are not on their knees.”

Furthermore, the recent gas deal between Russia and Greece — although could eventually help ease some of Greece’s financial problems come its completion in 2019 — is ultimately not about helping Greece.

For Russia, the pipeline is geopolitical leverage: It’s designed to bypass Ukraine, which allows Moscow to maintain its leverage over the EU and to additionally hurt Kiev.

Europe pipelinesReutersMap of Europe showing planned gas pipelines in the region. Includes proposed Gazprom pipeline to Europe through Turkey.

Notably, it’s stillhighly unlikely that Russia will bailout Greece. As Pieria View’sTomas Hirstpointed out back in April, Russia has its own economy to think about, and a significantly weaker eurozone won’t be good news for Russia.

“[I]t makes sense for both Athens and Moscow to act as if they might do a deal in order to pressure other players into offering terms — but absolutely no sense to actually do anything about it,” Hirst added.

Even “Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is unlikely to expect or event want a real Russian bailout because his government’s hopes are on the deal with the EU,” Matveeva writes. “It is worth noting that Greece held the EU line in this month’s extension of sanctions on Russia over Ukraine.”

Merkel TsiprasREUTERS/Hannibal HanschkeMerkel and Tsipras.

Additionally, Russia benefits from a Greece that remains in the EU — provided that Russo-Greek relations don’t deteriorate — because then Moscow has a friend in Europe, according to Andreas Marazis, a researcher at FRIDE.

“This effectively means that Athens will have to eventually strike an agreement with its partners, since Russia’s ultimate goal is not to ‘save’ the Greek economy but to strengthen its own foothold in Europe,” Marazis adds.

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