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Russia waits in wings as crisis deepens

Russian President Vladimir Putin may still be waiting for the best moment to come to Greece’s rescue as the Greek drama unfolds on the European scene. Photo: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin may still be waiting for the best moment to come to Greece’s rescue as the Greek drama unfolds on the European scene. Photo: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin must be finding it hard to contain a wry smile as the European Union struggles with Greece’s debt problems.

Events are playing into his hands by diverting attention from the conflict in Ukraine and offering him a chance to exploit differences in the EU which might undermine unity on sanctions against Russia over Ukraine.

Russia’s fragile economy would certainly not escape unscathed if Greece left the eurozone or the EU, and the crisis could serve as a worrying lesson for Moscow as it builds its own political and economic bloc with other former Soviet republics.

But Russia is now one of the few countries Athens might realistically turn to for money and state-run media are having a field day, depicting the EU as a discredited and dysfunctional empire in terminal decline.

“I do think that they’re going to use Greece as a tool against Germany, as a tool against the European Union,” Yevgenia Albats, a Russian commentator and editor of the independent New Times magazine, said.

“That’s exactly what the Soviets did, that’s exactly what the KGB did during the Cold War, when they were using countries and governments, especially poor ones, in their war with Western civilisation.”

State media portray Greece’s crisis as just the start of the EU’s problems, suggesting Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy could be next if Greece left the eurozone.

News about the crisis on state-controlled news channel Russia-24 is accompanied by a graphic declaring: ‘Greece – almost over.’

The popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda this week ran the headline: ‘Greek tragedy. Divorce already near.’

Everything is heading towards the European empire falling apart

Far-left politician Eduard Limonov wrote an article for Izvestia newspaper under the headline ‘Crumbling empire’ that smacked of a feeling of revenge, nearly a quarter of a century after the Soviet Union fell apart.

“In short, many countries have reasons to leave the EU but Greece will be the first to summon up the courage to do so,” he wrote. “Everything is bad, everything is heading towards the European empire falling apart.”

The Kremlin has played down suggestions Russia might bail out its Orthodox Christian brothers, describing it as a problem for Athens and its creditors to solve.

Russia has relatively little exposure to Greek banks and government debt, but a Greek exit from the eurozone would limit risk appetite worldwide and Russian assets are seen as risky.

Few would rule out entirely the possibility that Putin is still waiting for the best moment to come to Greece’s rescue, or that Prime Minister Alexei Tsipras might make a last-minute request for aid after making two visits to Russia this year.

Washington has been lobbying European leaders to do all they can to support Greece; global markets would be disrupted if Athens left the euro and Greece could block an extension of EU sanctions against Russia or make Nato decision-making difficult if it felt it had little to lose.

Some Russian experts want Greece to give up on its Western partners, join a Russia-led customs union and sign up for the Moscow-dominated Eurasian Economic Union, intended to challenge the economic power of the EU, China and the US.

“It has one option; leave Nato and then, for company, join us,” said Mikhail Delyagin, a prominent economist.

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