The Greece’s vote against the economic reforms proposed by the EU will have far-reaching implications for Europe and Russia, as well as for former Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine.
Supporters of the "No" vote react after the first results of the referendum at Syntagma square in Athens, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Greece faced an uncharted future as its interior ministry predicted Sunday that more than 60 percent of voters in a hastily called referendum had rejected creditors' demands for more austerity in exchange for rescue loans. Photo: AP
"Oxi," the Greek word for "No," carries important historical significance for Greeks. It was this word that, on October 28, 1940, was said to be the response of Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas to Benito Mussolini's ultimatum for Italian troops to occupy Greece. Since then, every October 28 is celebrated in Greece as "Oxi Day" or, simply, "No Day."
On July 5, once again the Greek people said "Oxi" in the much-anticipated Greece referendum (or "Greferendum"). On the ballot was the question of whether or not the Greek people wanted more of the same austerity, with potentially damaging long-term consequences for Europe. The vast majority of Greeks rejected the economic reforms that impose austerity.
Speaking to the Greek people after the vote, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced that, "With the difficult circumstances prevailing today, you made a very brave choice."
In the lead-up to the referendum, politicians in Brussels warned that a vote for "No" meant a vote against Europe. Such efforts to dissuade Greek voters from voting "No" have in fact backfired and illustrate that Brussels can no longer solely impose the terms of the negotiations for solving Greece's mammoth financial problems.
The Greeks also saw another thinly-veiled motive behind EU advocacy for a "Yes" vote, namely, an effort to discredit Prime Minister Tsipras and oust him and his leftist populist party from power. For many Greeks, the "No" vote was representative of more than a vote on the IMF-sponsored austerity policies. It was also a vote on Greek sovereignty and on the right of Greece to fully express itself democratically.
At the final rally for the "No" campaign before the final vote, Tsipras addressed a massive crowd at Syntagma Square in Athens. It was said to be the largest demonstration in Greece since the fall of the military junta in 1974.
"Today, at this hour," Tsipras told the crowd, "all of Europe has its eyes on you, on the Greek people, on the three million who are poor, on the 1.5 million who are unemployed."
"Today we are celebrating," he said, "because of our courage and determination to take our destiny into our own hands, to give the Greek people the opportunity to express their will... In the birthplace of democracy, we are giving democracy the chance to return. To return to Europe, because we want Europe to return to its founding values."
Not so fast, though. The ultimate result of "No" also leads to another question: Does this vote indicate a "Grexit," i.e., a Greek departure from the Eurozone? Not necessarily so. In fact, it is more likely that Tsipras was challenging the bluff of the Europeans, gambling that Greece would not be ousted from the Eurozone.
In his campaign for a "No" vote, he loudly proclaimed that he could secure an even better deal for Greece, one that would ultimately not involve the harsh austerity policies to which Greece has been subjected for the last five years.
However, time will tell. In the event that a deal still cannot be attained, Greece may indeed opt for leaving the Eurozone and re-adopting the drachma. That scenario could also include some tough times for the Greeks.
Implications for Russian-EU relations
However, it should be noted that although the Greek "No" vote was largely a matter between Brussels and Athens, it also has implications for Russian-EU relations. In particular, the ongoing Greek financial crisis (or "Grisis"), including the most recent referendum, will continue to focus the EU's attention on its internal problems.
Although some within the EU may advocate continued efforts to enlarge the union to include ex-Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia, most politicians in Brussels will be far more concerned with trying to keep the existing union together.
The Greek crisis has reminded EU politicians that it still has major financial problems for which there is no quick fix. The EU simply cannot afford to enlarge itself any further, not only because of the stress it would cause for states that are already EU members, but also because it would unnecessarily aggravate relations with Moscow.
This may explain why the recent EU Eastern Partnership summit in Riga, Latvia was a less-than-celebratory occasion and a disappointment for former Soviet states, like Ukraine, which have EU membership aspirations.
Not only was visa-free travel ruled out, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel also clearly ruled out any serious talk of EU enlargement in the post-Soviet space. Noting that the Eastern Partnership is "not an instrument of the EU's enlargement policy," she spoke against creating false expectations for former Soviet republics.
Given Brussels' ongoing headaches with Athens, one can only imagine what difficulty the EU would have with a country like Ukraine, which is even more bankrupt, has no real plans for financial stability, and has a population that is four times the size of Greece.
This pragmatic position may anger hawks in both the EU and the U.S., but it is arguably the most reasonable approach. The EU has very serious problems that need to be addressed immediately.
Getting involved in a major geopolitical confrontation with Russia will only distract from these far more important issues and will in fact create new ones. If history has taught Europe anything, it is the lesson of avoiding needless entanglements.
Instead, Europe would be better off pursuing dialogue with Russia, taking into account Russia's interests. This would be one in which former Soviet republics like Ukraine, Georgia or Armenia can have access to the best of both worlds. If realized, such a scenario could help pave the way toward the realization of a truly united Europe, stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.