Head of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (CFDP) Fyodor Lukyanov, says the Greek crisis may have knock-on effects for relations between Russia, the United States and the European Union.
Evzones of Greek Presidential Guards are seen during changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown Soldier outside the parliament in central Athens, on Thursday, July 2, 2015. Greece braced for more chaos on the streets outside its mostly shuttered banks Thursday, as Athens and its creditors halted talks on resolving the country's deepening financial crisis until a referendum this weekend. Photo: AP
At this stage in the crisis, no one can be certain how the Greek fiasco will end. This is partially due to the fact that it is not a cause, but rather a consequence and symptom, of a deeper structural crisis at the heart of the European Union.
However, the view that a horrible end is preferable to an endless horror is beginning to become increasingly apparent.
After all, even if Athens and its creditors had shaken hands on Saturday, that would not have resolved the situation. It would merely have granted the parties involved a reprieve of six months, at most, before passions began to boil once more with even greater intensity. In any case, the euro zone will not heal itself without a large dose of painful medicine.
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Strange as it may seem, despite the enmity between the Greek government and the leaders of the euro zone, another deferment is still on the table. Greece is running out of options. A default will solve nothing by itself, but simply mark the start of the acute phase of the calamity.
For German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the chief architect of the five-year policy of “saving” Athens, a collapse would mean not only political defeat, but also the need to embark on an extremely risky voyage over the waves of European reform with a view towards integration — i.e., towards assuming a level of responsibility many times greater than before. In any event, perhaps for the first time in its history, the European project faces a major internal challenge to the very principles of its existence.
Russia and the U.S. in Southern Europe
Russia is no curious bystander. The structural shifts taking place in the country’s immediate vicinity are of the same magnitude as those during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Moreover, the EU is still Russia’s biggest trading partner. Even the strained relations of the past year have not dented the volume of trade significantly. What conclusions can one draw from this?
First of all, the European Union’s once predictable-looking path of development can no longer be taken as certain. The model will change, accompanied by an inevitable adjustment in policy, both regionally and globally.
However, the exact course it will take is difficult to calculate, since there are many variables, some of which are contradictory. An unpleasant consequence for Moscow could be a larger role for the United States on the European continent.
The surge of problems (including Greece and the perhaps-even-more-explosive issue of mass immigration from the south) will cause the EU to focus inwards, reducing options for outer expansion, in particular a more active policy in the post-Soviet space.
But the EU’s failure as a regional manager is alarming the United States, which in the past decade has taken its eye off Mother Europe in the vain hope that a unified continent would ensure order as a matter of course. Not only did that not happen (case in point: Ukraine), but now, even events that once seemed certain are now being called into question.
In particular, Washington is anxious about Brussels’inability to deal with Athens in connection with Greece’s role in NATO. Given the Cold War rhetoric that has reentered Russian-U.S. relations, a weakening of the chain of collective defense in southern Europe is unfortunate timing for the White House.
The result may be the return of the United States to European affairs. The doubling of efforts in European capitals (Berlin in particular has espoused the values of Atlanticism) to reach an agreement on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), designed to economically cement the collective West, is already noticeable.
Accordingly, Washington’s willingness to delegate policy in the post-Soviet space to European partners will decrease, and its own involvement will increase.
That could reopen a division that took place 30 years ago, perhaps with more serious consequences. Back then some European countries (Germany, France, Italy) contrived to conduct a non-U.S. policy in respect of the Soviet Union, since Washington generally trusted them. Today the United States is beginning to doubt their competence.
Greece: seeking support from Russia and China
If in the coming days Athens and Berlin/Brussels do not pull off another nifty move, Moscow (and Beijing) can expect a file of Greek supplicants asking for loose change. Caution is called for, however, since investments in the country at present are a game of roulette.
This game is one in which the wheel can be manipulated by the croupier and the players themselves. Substantive talks with Greece on economic cooperation are only possible once the situation has become clearer — in whichever direction. Otherwise, there is no point in playing a game that can be rigged at any moment.
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Another lesson to be drawn from the Greek crisis is that ill-conceived integration in which politics prevails over economics is a dead horse. Official proponents of the Eurasian Economic Union should take heed, and put an immediate end to the dreamy statements issued periodically about an imminent transition to a monetary union.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.
The article was first published in Russian in the Russia in Global Affairs magazine.