Russia is not being coy about it: Vladimir Putin hopes to discuss the lifting of EU sanctions with Greek PM Alexis Tsipras when the latter visits Moscow next week. Reuters reports:
The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said it was too early to talk about any possibility of Moscow providing financial help to the cash-strapped Greece before the talks.
“Relations between Moscow and the European Union will be discussed in the light of Brussels’s policy of sanctions and Athens’ quite cold attitude to this policy,” Peskov said.
The prospect of some sort of quid pro quo between Russia and Syriza-led Greece is real enough. We have been writing for some time that Russia is trying to divide Europe, as it recognizes that EU solidarity on the issues surrounding the Ukraine crisis has never been all that strong. And Putin has friends and admirers in Europe’s high places, none closer, perhaps, than the new Greek leadership. In February, for example, leaked emails showed close correspondence and cooperation between Syriza and Putin’s inner circle.
Russia may not have the kind of money to throw around to induce Tsipras to threaten to veto the extension of the sanctions in June. If Athens gets obstructionist, it would permanently poison the well with the power-brokers in Brussels. Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, for their part, don’t seem too worried about the possibility of it happening.
But the sanctions are broad, and the debate over them is not quite over yet, despite a compromise agreement reached at the last EU summit. The sanctions, after all, are not a binary tool; they aren’t either off or on. These are questions of degree, and Vladimir Putin may be able to buy himself a proxy negotiator at the next summit to try at least to dull some of the sharpest edges of the sanctions now in place.