Merkel’s government contemplates the cost of bailing out Greece, and her Finance Minister hints that it may be better for all involved if Greece gets out of the Euro. As Greece’s Prime Minister Tsipras licks his wounds after being gnawed and humiliated in Brussels, the IMF warns of a much bigger gash in Greece’s balance sheet that will need greater debt relief, (read – debt forgiveness or extension into the infinite.) Greece probably should be out of the Euro, and their Prime Minister deserves to suffer the political consequences within his political constituency of being outplayed. However, does “victory” for Berlin and the Euro-right parties ultimately turn into a loss for the Euro-Atlantic partnerships?
“Underbelly of NATO” brought together Historic Rivals:
Greece and Turkey are key NATO members in the long southern sea borders. While the relationship between Greece and Turkey has been at times tenuous, nonetheless the two have come together to face the threat from the USSR and more recently to soothe each other facing earthquakes and humanitarian challenges. A divided Cyprus continues to be a source of tension, but even here there is a fresh approach and hope of substantive progress.
Greece though has also had a longstanding lean toward Moscow. The “far-left” has held a strong political role in Greek politics, and was overtly marginalized by Washington-backed governments during the period of the USSR. Perhaps now more appealing is the cultural and religious links between the two majority Christian Orthodox countries. In Greece there is also perhaps more than a fringe ultra-nationalist as well as xenophobic element, and at times copulation with the presumably extreme-left. Russian economic interests have been a significant factor, including in neighboring Cyprus.
Is Greece Deal more about Suffocating Leftist Political Opposition throughout Europe than Restructuring Greece’s Untenable Debt?
Yes, Greece (actually under a center-right led government) did cheat more than a decade earlier to gain admittance to the Euro, and with help of its financial advisers gain access to easy credit in the financial markets. Greece also needs economic reform, from lax tax collection to a bloated public system. However, history of past abuses is lost, countries as Germany have also benefited from the Euro partnership and reform cannot be doled out as humiliating, crippling punishment.
Humiliation as well as economic desperation are as powerful combination as any to raise the emotional appeal of nationalism and extremism. Germany’s current leaders and many on the center-right political establishment have focused their political energy and capital on subduing new populist upstarts on the left, from Spain to Italy, which have taken inspiration from the Tsipras-led Syriza party. The hard bargaining with Greece was in significant part designed to suffocate the political air for such upstarts in other EU states. However, in trying to save their own political dominance, some EU leaders may be risking a popular swing to the far right, or in Greece’s case to the seduction of Putin’s combination of religious chauvinism and economic life preserver.
Putin’s Retro Model for Europe:
Putin has already sought to expand his sphere beyond the current hot spots of Ukraine and Georgia. Serbia and particularly nationalist Serb-held areas of Bosnia & Herzegovina have sided with Putin, from UN votes and sanctions to the flow of para-military to fight alongside Moscow backed “rebels.” Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro and Romania are also Orthodox majority countries now aligned with the Euro-Atlantic family but which may slide toward Putin particularly if the southern flank of the EU as well as NATO are made feel as second-class to the money of northern Europe. (See: “Construction According to Putin’s Model…“)
Some in the former Soviet dominated states of northern Europe, including the Baltics, have been particularly vocal in their antithesis toward what they not only perceive as a quasi-communist Syriza but a sympathizer of Moscow. Whether such emotional response to Greece’s troubles has some validity, it is not rationale for the security of all of Europe particularly the former Soviet dominated states. Putin will see and seize opportunity, whether in acquiring new allies or again subduing former serf-states, as he improvises a new imperial Russia.
If EU was about also Consolidating post-WW II Peace, then Eurozone Unraveling, Risks old Rivalries & New Geo-Political Challenges?
Greece may be the biggest prize in Putin’s eyes. Greece does not have to formally depart the EU or even NATO. Rather, it can be the non-cooperative partner that undermines decision making as well as unity of action, (perhaps even more negative influence than Mitterrand-led France.) Further, a Greece leaning toward Putin could also destabilize Turkey. On the one hand, Turkey has also been left unwanted by the “Christian” European Union, (as some European leaders have defined the EU.) On the other hand, Turkey would feel besieged as its most formidable rival and at times adversary now threatens to encircle it, particularly when already facing the Syria crisis, and the equally unpalatable future of ISIS or Assad regime on its long southern borders.
US policy makers have also warned of the risk, particularly former US Ambassadors to Greece including Nicholas Burns. Council of Foreign Relations President Richard Haass has been more nuanced regarding the probability of Greece edging away from the Euro-Atlantic family toward Putin or China. Fortunately for the Euro-Atlantic partnerships, both Moscow and Beijing have challenges of their own, from sanctions to slowing economies; however, that is no estoppel to a calculated move of strategic proportions. Under current management, the Greek drama will continue for some time, with real tragedies for its people (also at a period of spiking influx of migrants to its shores.) With all due respect to the “experts,” the risk of the foreseeable and unthinkable is high enough. “Grexit” or similar trauma is not about who writes the check but how the future of Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions is chiseled for this century and beyond. (For more see: “Global Finance at Diplomat-Artist” )