With Greece teetering on the edge of insolvency and forced to raid pension and most other public funds, ahead of another month of heavy IMF repayments which has prompted even the ECB to speculate Greece should introduce a parallel "IOU" currency, a white knight has appeared out of nowhere for Greece, one who may offer $5 billion in urgently needed cash. The white knight is none other than Vladimir Putin. “Just because Greece is debt-ridden, this does not mean it is bound hand and foot, and has no independent foreign policy,” Putin said previously.
According to Spiegel, citing a senior figure in the ruling Syriza party, Greece is poised to sign a gas deal with Russia as early as Tuesday which could bring up to €5 billion into the depleted Greek coffers.
The move could now "turn the tide" for the debt-stricken country according to a senior Greek official.
As Reuters adds, during a visit to Moscow earlier this month, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras expressed interest in participating in a pipeline that would bring Russian gas to Europe via Turkey and Greece.
Under the proposed deal, Greece would receive advance funds from Russia based on expected future profits linked to the pipeline. The Greek energy minister said last week that Athens would repay Moscow after 2019, when the pipeline is expected to start operating.
Greek government officials were not immediately available to comment on the Spiegel report.
Of course, this being Greece, the probability of actual repayment is negligible: after all the likelihood of a Greek default is astronomical, and €5 billion will do little to change the mechanics of Greek debt sustainability. And Putin very well knows this.
However, the Russian leader is not acting out of the kindness of his heart, but merely engaging in another calculated move, one which kills two birds with one stone:
- Following the death of the South Stream, whereby the EU pressured Bulgaria to refuse passage of the Russian gas pipeline to Europe, Russia needed an alternative route of bypassing Ukraine (and Bulgaria) entirely, something which according to Kremlin's plan should happen over the next 3 years. And with Hungary and Serbia all eager to transit Russian gas to the Austrian central european gas hub, Greece was the missing link for a landline transit. With this agreement, Russia gets the green light to extend the Blue Stream all the way to Austria and preserve its dominance over the European energy market while leaving Ukraine in a completely barganining vacuum.
- Perhaps just as importantly, suddenly Russia will energy as the generous benefactor riding to Greece's salvation, in turn even further antagonizing the Eurozone and further cementing favorable public opinion. As a reminder, several weeks ago we showed that Russia already has a higher approval rating among the Greek population thatn the Eurozone. In this way, Russia has just won a critical ally for the very low price of just €5 billion, without even having to restructure the entire Greek balance sheet should Greece have exited the euro and been attracted to the Eurasian Economic Union. Which also means that all future attempts to impose further sanctions on Russia by Europe will fail thanks to the Greek veto vote.
Russia is not alone in seeking to divide the spoils of the collapsing Eurozone: Beijing has also sought to invest in Greece's infrastructure and bought up €100m worth of short-term government debt last week the Telegraph reports.
Ironically, it was none other than Germany's finance minister Wolfgang Schauble who said the Greeks are free to pursue deals with Russia and China as they rush to avoid an impending bankruptcy. Turns out the Greeks decided to do precisely as the German suggested, and the outcome will certainly not be to Germany's liking.
The only question following what may well be another masterful stroke by Putin is what will Europe do, now that Putin has in the span of under one year, not only "annexed" Crimea but fully drawn Greece (and the Mediterranean courtesy of Cyprus) into its sphere of influence.
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While we are sure the European leadership will be 'disappointed' at Greece's get-out-of-Troika-jail card thanks to Russia, The Greek people have already expressed their opinion on just who they trust more...
Despite all the western propaganda...
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Finally, for those confused about the flow of funds, here it is:
Russia (Gazprom) gives Greece money, which Greece uses to repay the IMF, which uses the Greek money to fund a loan to Kiev, which uses the IMF loan to pay Russia (Gazprom).
A perfect circle.