Russian Pivot: Greek PM Schedules Putin Meeting Ahead Of "Lehman Weekend"

Earlier this month, we reported that Greece is prepared to sign an MOU of political support for Gazprom’s Turkish Stream Pipeline, when Alexis Tsipras visits St. Petersburg for the International Economic Forum this week. 

The deal is a blow to Washington, which attempted to persuade Athens to support an alternative pipeline. In April, US State Department envoy Amos Hochstein met with Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzia to pitch The Southern Gas Corridor, a project which, when complete, will  allow the EU to tap into Caspian gas via a series of connecting pipelines running from Azerbaijan to Italy. The corridor is aimed at breaking Gazprom’s stranglehold in Europe. 

(Turkish Stream)

(Southern Gas Corridor)

Greece, defiant in the face of US pressure and no doubt intent on preserving the last bit of leverage it has in negotiations with European creditors, contended that it did not view the two pipelines as competitors and would pursue participation in both projects. Greece will not, Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said, be swayed by pressure from The White House:

“We do not considered them to be rivals. On the contrary, we think they both contribute to energy supply of European countries.That’s why it is odd that the Russian project is raising concern and doubts in the US and the European Union. We will not submit to the interests and wishes of any third country. Greece is nobody’s property. We move based on the interests of our people and our national interests. The country must become a development hub for Europe’s energy supply."

Since then, the situation between Greece and its creditors has deteriorated meaningfully. Athens is now reportedly set to delay a June 30 IMF payment for six months and faces the imposition of capital controls over what could end up being a “Lehman Weekend.” With his back against the wall, and with Syriza party hardliners apparently no closer to backing concessions, Tsipras looks set to once again play the ‘Russian pivot” card because as Kathimerini reports, a “working meeting” between the Greek PM and Russian President Vladimir Putin is now scheduled for Friday in St. Petersburg:

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due to travel to Saint Petersburg on Friday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency (AMNA) quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Tuesday.

"A working meeting has been scheduled with Alexis Tsipras on Friday, July 19, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum," Peskov was quoted as saying.

The Kremlin spokesman did not reveal what the two men would be talking about.

If we had to venture a guess, the two leaders will be talking about options for Russian aid in the event the relationship between Athens and Brussels continues to deteriorate in the coming weeks.

There are a number of possibilities, including a multibillion euro advance on Greece’s Turkish Stream revenue and the arrangement of a loan from the BRICS bank. Note that this is a perfect time for Greece to explore the BRICS option. As we've noted on serveral occasions, Russia has invited Greece to join and reports indicate Athens could be eligible for a loan immediately and would be allowed to tender its paid in capital in installments to ease the financial burden of joining. Further, Russia will host this year's BRICS summit in Ulfa on July 8-9 where the $100 billion bank will officially be launched along with a $100 billion currency reserve, meaning Greece could serve as a kind of pilot project for the new fund.

All of the above serve to underscore Angela Merkel's insistence on going to extra mile to keep Greece in the euro even in the face of staunch opposition both from lawmakers and from the German finance ministry. In short, the Chancellor fears the geopolitical ramifications of a Grexit could, in the long run, prove more detrimental than the economic consequences, especially considering the situation in Ukraine. 

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