Could Greece and Russia Crush the European Union?

Athens and Moscow teaming up could spell geopolitical disaster for Europe.

The ushering of Alexis Tsipras into the office of Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic in late January 2015 represents a major change in Europe’s geopolitics. Tsipras and his left-wing Syriza party rode to power on a wave of acute voter dissatisfaction caused by the country’s severe economic downturn starting in 2009. Many Greeks believe this situation was rooted in austerity and reforms imposed by Brussels’ unelected bureaucrats taking orders from Berlin. There is now a new geopolitics of debt that encompasses relations within the European Union (EU), Europe’s relations with Russia and to a lesser extent, China. For the United States, the new geopolitical terrain only complicates an already complicated Eurasian political arena.

The bailout was engineered under the auspices of the Troika, which is the EU, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund. The massive injection of loans kept Greece from defaulting on its debt and helped Greece remain in the Eurozone. It also helped stabilize acute financial-market turmoil that threatened to spread to Spain, Italy and France.

While Greece is a victim of bad decisions on the part of its own past political leaders, there is considerable questioning of the correctness of the Troika’s economic medicine, in particular the austerity measures. Berlin’s well-articulated preference for living within one’s means has not gone over well with people hit by the lack of economic growth in not just Greece, but many other EU countries.

Europe’s economic-growth crisis coincides with Germany’s rise as the clearly dominant power in continental Europe. For his part, Tsipras wants to rewrite European geopolitics, tapping into a growing anti-austerity mood in other European countries, and undercut Berlin’s influence. Indeed, during his election campaign, the Greek leader accused German chancellor Angela Merkel of conducting a “social Holocaust.”

While it can be argued that Tsipras has the right message that Greece’s debt is too high, he is probably not the best messenger. He is a polarizer and enjoys confrontation. Staunchly left wing, he spoke out against Western sanctions on Russia shortly after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, repeatedly called on Germany to pay billions of euros in war reparations, and in general, has little love for capitalism.

Following Varoufakis’ meeting at the ECB with Mario Draghi, the central bank suspended standard funding for Greek banks by cancelling its acceptance of Greek bonds as collateral, shifting the burden of funding banks through emergency liquidity assistance from Greece’s central bank.

While Tsipras and Varoufakis were seeking to charm other European leaders, Greece’s new foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, was active. A former political-science professor and author of Greece Colony of Debt: European Empire and German Primacy, Kotzias in his first week briefly held up the discussion on extending EU sanctions against Russia, because Athens was not properly informed and was opposed to proposals for new sanctions.

Under the current structure, European policy often reflects German influence, albeit forged by a consensus. In this, Greece is right to point out the lopsided nature of EU policy deliberations, especially when they overrides the democratically expressed wishes of a country’s citizens. Its approach, however, is abrasive and ultimately divisive.

The battle over Greece’s debt points to the problematic nature of the EU’s political structure. In the early 21st century, it increasingly looks like the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted roughly from the 9th century to 1806. In its late period, the Holy Roman Empire was a ramshackle affair, marked by a weak political center, a loosely held coalition of states stretching across much of Europe and a battleground for outside powers. Greece’s new geopolitical direction will not by itself dismantle the EU, but it is a force pulling against the political center.

Full article: Could Greece and Russia Crush the European Union? (The National Interest)

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