So what exactly was discussed in those meetings between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Vladimir Putin last week? Maybe it wasn’t just inconclusive chatter about soft fruits and gas prices. A Russian news outlet is claiming that negotiations are underway for Greece to buy S-300 rockets from Russia:
“We are limiting ourselves to replacement of missiles (for the systems),” RIA quoted [Greek Defense Minister Panos] Kammenos, who is in Moscow for a security conference, as saying.
“There are negotiations between Russia and Greece on the maintenance of the systems … as well as for the purchase of new missiles for the S-300 systems,” he said.
The Greek defense ministry in Athens later issued a statement quoting Kammenos as saying: “The existing defense cooperation programs will continue. There will be maintenance for the existing programs.”
Greece, a NATO member, has had S-300 batteries since the late 1990s, so this is more an upgrade and maintenance order rather than a signal of a huge shift. Nevertheless, given the financial straits Athens finds itself in, it’s hard not to see this announcement as yet another attempt by the Syriza government to signal that Greece has options.
But back in the real world, it’s hard to see what exactly those options are. S&P downgraded Greece yesterday to CCC+, though the company qualified the downgrade by saying that if Greece only defaulted on non-commercial loans, the country would not ‘automatically’ be considered to be in selective default.
Perhaps coincidentally, reports have also emerged that Greek leaders had informally approached the IMF to ask about shifting the dates on upcoming loan repayments. Almost €1 billion is due to the IMF in two payments in May. The IMF resolutely said no, stating that rescheduling would only be possible if Athens comes to an agreement with Europe over the terms of its bailout—an agreement which European leaders are increasingly viewing as unlikely.
The clock is ticking until the April 24th European summit, which could prove to be the decisive moment in this long-running tragedy/farce.