Putin Makes Several Economic and Financial Overtures to Greece in Effort to Solidify Special Relationship

President Vladimir Putin met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on April 7.  Although no specific deals were concluded by the two sides, a number of ‘‘‘in principle‘ commitments and offers were made that underscore the ambitions (and objectives) of the two sides with regard to the bilateral relationship and that reaffirm the positive feelings expressed by PM Tsipras toward Russia in the course of his election and thereafter.

Tellingly, the two sides agreed that joint ventures could be formed to get around the Russian food embargo targeting a number of EU and NATO member states.  This is a clear example of Russia seeking to provide special treatment to those Western allied states that it views to be pro-Russian and is evidence of Moscow’s strategy to divide the alliance by making special offers to individual states (particularly in the economic and financial domain).  Putin also indicated that, in general, Russia is prepared to help finance major new projects in Greece, even at a time when capital is scarce.

This is a fairly transparent endeavor on the part of both sides, as PM Tsipras observed that Greece is not a “debt colony” of the EU, but a “sovereign nation with the indelible right to carry out its own foreign policy‘ and proclaiming a ‘‘‘new spring‘ in Greco-Russian relations.  It is likely his hope that, because this ‘‘‘new spring‘ takes effect in the economic and financial arena, that is relevance to Greece‘s national security obligations (including within NATO) will remain unaffected.  For his part, Putin stated “Just because Greece is debt-ridden, this does not mean it is bound hand and foot, and has no independent foreign policy.”

Perhaps most notably, Russia also announced its readiness to participate actively in Greece‘s privatization efforts, should Athens continue to pursue this route in the course of its economic reforms. These efforts would likely include variety of strategic assets, including ports, airports and energy grids.  Gazprom has reportedly already been invited to explore for oil and natural gas off of Greece‘s eastern shore.  On this topic, Putin stated “If the Greek government is involved in privatizations, then we are ready to take part in bidding process and I hope Russian companies won’t be given less favorable terms than others.‘

This issue of Russian ownership of critical assets lies at the heart of the Kremlin‘s established strategy of leveraging its state-owned enterprises to advance its regional security agenda.  There is a distinct risk associated with the privatization efforts of Western allies succumbing to this strategy.