Within the Month: Greece will not vote against sanctions on Russia

Written 10 February 2015

There have  been a lot of fears recently that Greece will abandon EU sanctions against Russia as a means of leveraging from Germany a form of debt relief and eventually move towards a Russian sphere of influence. However, that seems unlikely.

Greece moving against sanctions will only endanger it’s relationship with the EU, and it is possible that punitive measures from Germany would be taken against it. This would only endanger Syriza’s ruling platform, which is to bail out the workers and a tighter debt on Greece would only make this more unlikely. Furthermore, if Greece fails, there will be nobody to bail them out — the EuroZone would be in shambles and Russia is already turning into shambles. As a matter of fact, the entire world economy will suffer.

If this isn’t enough, the United States is pushing to arm Ukraine and to further sanctions against Russia, meaning that it would do what it can to convince the Germans to agree to debt relief.

Putin is more likely to play a long game with regards to Greece. Right now, he is using Greece as a pawn to threaten the West. Just like a pawn in chess, there is little that Greece can do and Russia can’t be guaranteed to support it.

Russia has a lot more to gain from Greece’s non-vote on sanctions than Greece does. Simply put, Russia would not have to bear new sanctions and would splinter any western effort to arm Ukrainians. Greece would face the ire of the EU and Syriza’s support may collapse.

Of course there is also the possibility that the EU will relieve Greece’s debt even if with a non-vote on sanctions. However, the costs are way too high for Syriza and for Greece, meaning that such a risk would be untenable. Instead, there is much more to gain for Greece by deftly convincing the Germans to reduce debts. The choice seems quite simple.

Furthermore, although Russia is gaining more influence in Southeast Europe, Greece would still be isolated. Its closest ally may be Serbia, which would be blocked be a hostile Albania and Macedonia. Even though Russia has signed a new gas deal with Turkey, the Turks and Greeks have long standing animosities which would be very difficult to resolve.

Turkey has its own great power ambitions and it is no doubt concerned about Russia’s moves in the region, especially a recent agreement with Cyprus to build new bases there. With Greece joining the leagues of Syria, Armenia, and Cyprus as being Russian allies, Turkey would in effect be surrounded and a standoff between Russia and Turkey would probably take place.

Russia is playing its game in the region not to gain in the short term, but instead to use all of its available chips. Perhaps in the long term it may seek to gain further influence, but this is yet to be seen.

Russia’s main geopolitical preoccupation right now is in the Donbas. Pro-Russian forces are about to complete the encirclement of Debaltseve and 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers could be killed or captured. This would be a devastating defeat for Ukraine, whose war effort in the southeast of the country would essentially be wiped out in a single move. Captured Ukrainian soldiers could serve as a political bargaining chip for the Russians. It seems like the Chocolate King, Poroshenko, may have bit off more than he could chew.