Greek Crisis, Russian Opportunity

Meanwhile, Putin has been rubbing his hands in glee at Europe’s misfortune. The Greek crisis offers a golden opportunity to subvert the West from within. It is also a welcome distraction diverting European (and even American) attention away from Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine and Putin’s plans to rebuild the Soviet empire.

By Paweł Piotr Styrna l August 26, 2015

Putin sees the Greek crisis as an opportunity to undermine the West

When thinking of the debt crisis currently plaguing Greece, two well-known quotes immediately come to mind. The first is Margaret Thatcher’s observation that “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.” That is a very apt description of how the Greeks destroyed their own economy. A second statement, uttered by Polish conservative libertarian, Stefan Kisielewski (1911 – 1991), maintained that “socialism is a system that bravely combats the problems of its own creation,” seems to illustrate the approach of the EU.

While the EU-Athens dimension of the crisis has received a great deal of attention and generated much debate, few have recognized the role of Moscow in this modern-day Greek tragedy. Since Vladimir Putin is following the ancient Roman maxim of divide et impera (“divide and conquer”), he is no doubt quite satisfied with this relative lack of exposure. For the Chekist-in-Chief, the Greek crisis is a convenient opportunity to continue the old Soviet strategy of undermining the West by attempting to sever, or at least weaken, the trans-Atlantic bonds uniting America with her Western and Southern European NATO allies, including the Greeks. At a minimum, the Kremlin hopes to utilize Athens as a Trojan Horse within NATO and the EU.

The problem with Euro-socialism

The Hellenic crisis is the latest episode in the odyssey known as the Eurozone Crisis or, alternatively, as the European sovereign debt crisis, which, in turn, is part of a larger global debt-fuelled implosion that is also plaguing the United States. The current international financial order – built upon a shaky foundation of large annual governmental budgetary deficits, soaring levels of national debt, and the inflation of the money supply (known under the deceptive name of “quantitative easing”) by many central banks (including the Federal Reserve in the U.S.) – is, at its heart, a Ponzi Scheme. Once the “bubbles” generated by such unsustainable policies inevitably burst, a meltdown ensued at the end of the George W. Bush administration and was exacerbated by Team Obama. Predictably, a crisis affecting the world’s largest economy also impact the rest of the world, including the nations of the EU – America’s largest trade partner. Member states with the largest debt-to-GDP ratios – Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy, and Cyprus – were hit particularly hard. Greece, as the weakest link, was hit the hardest, however.

Thus, when Athens revealed, in October 2009, that the projected budget deficit for the year would not be, as previously maintained, “6 to 8 percent” of the GDP, but 12.7 percent, many investors raised the alarm of a potential default. Financial panic ensued, accompanied predictably by a great deal of finger-pointing between Brussels and Berlin, on the one hand, and Athens, on the other.

The reality, however, is that both sides share the blame for the crisis. Admittedly, the Greeks are by no means innocent victims of greedy bankers. After all, successive democratically-elected governments in Athens drove Greece off the Taygetus through their irresponsible spending, unsustainable deficits, and easy money. One of the most infamous examples of such destructive socialist-statist policies was the Greek pension system; Hellenes could retire as early as age 45. Such a pyramid scheme was doomed, especially given Greece’s low – and typically European – fertility rate (approximately 1.3 births per woman), a statistic that the crisis is further exacerbating.

“Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Euro!”

And, yet, it would be disingenuous and misleading to solely hold the Greeks culpable. While they surely made their own bed, the EU aided and abetted the disaster. As one analyst describes it:

The EU started off as a limited free trade zone among six affluent European countries. Then it added more and more countries that were less and less affluent, lured in by subsidies. Then it added a general requirement that new members adopt the euro and join the Eurozone.

The EU juggernaut expanded but unsustainably, fueled by debt implicitly guaranteed by the EU and directed by an ever-growing bureaucracy that — after extending across almost the whole of Europe and trying even to embrace Ukraine, a country whose GDP is at Third World levels — has run out of steam.

What is the logic behind subsidizing EU expansion and pushing the Euro? To grasp it, we have to recognize two key forces driving “united Europe.”

The first one is the pan-European class of “Eurocrats,” a milieu defined by its marked preference for statist-socialist policies and bureaucratic standardization and its strong contempt for national sovereignty. Their main goal is turning the EU into a European super-state – a kind of Festung Europa. The purpose of a common currency (the Euro) and open borders is to facilitate that objective.

The second driver is the Berlin-Paris axis running through Brussels. The Germans, in particular, hope to boost their geopolitical leverage by dominating any pan-European super-state. Berlin also views Central-Eastern and South-Eastern Europe as a market for its exports and a source of cheap labor and attractive women; the increases in taxes, regulations, and prices that came with EU membership helped keep these countries less competitive. The old vision of Mitteleuropa is therefore, alive and well! The French, in turn, collaborate closely with Germany with the hope that a “united Europe” under Franco-German hegemony will bolster France’s international prestige.

The common interests between these two forces – the Eurocrats and the Berlin-Paris axis – have, for the time being, obscured the obvious tensions between their aspirations.

Now, thanks to the Eurocrats and their internationalist/globalist project, the Greeks are being reduced to debt slavery and German taxpayers are being fleeced to bail them out. That’s what happens when political leaders place “trans-national” agendas above the national interests of their countries.

Putin’s Schadenfreude

Meanwhile, Putin has been rubbing his hands in glee at Europe’s misfortune. The Greek crisis offers a golden opportunity to subvert the West from within. It is also a welcome distraction diverting European (and even American) attention away from Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine and Putin’s plans to rebuild the Soviet empire.

The hatred of the West – and the U.S. in particular – trumps any mutual attraction based on Orthodoxy and the Byzantine heritage. Although, Putin has demonstrated that he will not hesitate to invoke Orthodoxy, or anything else that suits his objectives at any particular moment,  he had no qualms about invading two fellow Orthodox nations: Georgia and Ukraine.

The attempt to gain a foothold in Greece is deeply embedded in Russian history, however. Since the eighteenth century, the Russians, and later the Soviets, have sought to control the so-called Turkish Straits – the Bosporus and the Dardanelles – to gain access to the Mediterranean Sea. Increased Kremlin influence in Greece may not be tantamount to Russian control of the straits, but it may serve to exert pressure on Turkey and – as Luke Coffey of Heritage pointed out – it might even lead to the utilization of vital Greek ports (in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas) by Moscow. It is likely that, like during the Tsarist era, the Russians will raise the banner of neo-Byzantinism to help further their plans of securing their maritime connection with the Mediterranean basin in general, and with their “naval facility” in Tartus, Syria.

Some have speculated that the Greek government, led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, is merely trying to play the Russian card to increase Athens’ leverage vis-à-vis the EU. Such a game may certainly be a factor to consider, but one should not dismiss the issue of certain ideological affinities between Putin’s post-Soviet regime and Tsipras’ neo-Bolshevik Syriza (i.e. the Coalition of the Radical Left) party. During the 1980s, when Putin worked as a KGB officer, Tsipras joined the Communist Youth of Greece. After the Soviet implosion, both comrades have reinvented themselves – one as a Russian nationalist-imperialist and supposed champion of “Christian traditionalism,” and the other as a “former communist” leftist – but both continue to subscribe to an anti-Western and anti-American agenda inherited from the bad old days. This may not lead to Athens’ withdrawal from Euro-Atlantic organizations (NATO, the EU, etc.), but it may very well result in the Greeks sabotaging, at the Kremlin’s behest, any American attempts to rally NATO against Russian aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere. Hence, Moscow has an obvious interest in offering Athens a conditional economic lifeline. But can the Kremlin, embroiled in Ukraine, afford it?

Although Western sanctions – imposed on Moscow in response to her undeclared invasion of Ukraine – have weakened Russia’s economy, we should not dismiss the very real possibility of Kremlin cash flowing southward to prop up the collapsing Greek economy. According to Henry Nau, a senior staff member of the Reagan National Security Council, Putin is:

spending a lot of money to reassert Russia’s image in the region (…) He can’t sustain Greece for very long, but he’s going to play in that game, I think, by way of simply undermining the confidence of Greek people in the European Union, which he would like very much to see rolled back or weakened, and also weaken their confidence in NATO.

Like his Cold War predecessors, the current master of the Kremlin is willing to allow his people to suffer.

The problem is compounded by America’s absence, consistent with Obama’s “leading from behind strategy,” which creates geopolitical power vacuums which malefactors like Putin are more than eager to fill.

But perhaps there is yet another reason – even if subconscious – explaining Obama’s passivity in the context of the Greek crisis? After all, Greece’s debt-driven economic implosion is both a warning and a reminder of the Sword of Damocles dangling ominously over our own heads. Barack Obama has almost doubled the U.S. national debt, which currently stands at more than $18.3 trillion. Even if America avoids the fate of a “second Greece,” such runaway spending is simply unsustainable, and – if not halted – will certainly continue to weaken our economy and, therefore, also our military potential and international position. That is why Admiral Michael Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called our national debt “the most significant threat to our national security.” From Putin’s perspective, however, the self-destructive American and European profligacy is a golden opportunity. A bankrupt West will hardly be able to muster the will and resources to resist Moscow’s imperial reconstruction.

Paweł Styrna has an MA in modern European history from the University of Illinois, and is currently working on an MA in international affairs at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC, where he is a research assistant to the Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies. Mr. Styrna is also a Eurasia analyst for the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.