As Greece’s reserves run low and its relations with the rest of Europe look increasingly strained, Russia is starting to look like it might be the country’s last hope for financial survival.
A meeting between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled for April 8 and speculation is mounting that an offer of aid from Russia could be back on the table.
Russia has said it was willing to offer Greece money before but Greece has so far stuck with aid from its fellow euro zone countries and the International Monetary Fund — but that was before the country had badly burned its bridges and flirted with defaulting on its debt.
As it stands now, Greece has yet to receive a final tranche of aid from the bodies overseeing its bailout program – the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – and is predicted to run out of money by April 20.
Pressure has mounted on Athens to produce a credible list of reforms so that will enable it to receive the last tranche of aid worth around 7 billion euros ($7.6 billion). It has yet to do so to the satisfaction of lenders, however, with its latest reform list rejected by lenders this weekend. As such, the aid remains under lock and key.
Speaking in parliament Monday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said his country will be unable to repay massive bailout debts.
“There is the recognition (from lenders) of the need to finally begin a debate on the necessary restructuring of the Greek debt,” he said, according to an Associated Press report Monday. “Because without such an intervention it is impossible to repay it.”
From Russia with love?
Greece is reliant on the last tranche of aid being released as it has more loan repayments to make in April – the first being 450 million euros due to the IMF on April 9. Time is also running out of its bailout program, which was extended by four months in February.
Against this backdrop, Greece’s meeting with Russia on April 8 is timely and could provide Greece with apparent “no-strings” financial aid. In fact, it has already made the offer in the past.
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told CNBC in January, just after Tsipras and his leftwing Syriza party was elected, that Russia would consider giving financial help to debt-ridden Greece although the offer was not taken up.
Greece has various cultural ties with Russia – they share the same Christian Orthodox tradition — and has been critical of Europe’s sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Crimea and part in the conflict in east Ukraine. German newspaper Der Spiegel reported Sunday that the Greek government was going to negotiate a reduction in gas prices from Russia and the lifting of the embargo on certain types of Greek products, such as fruit.
Zsolt Darvas, senior fellow at European think tank Bruegel, told CNBC that if Greece goes to Russia for money, it could have “wide-ranging consequences.”
“I really do hope and believe that Tsipras and other members of the Greek government understand that they’re a member of Europe and their future is in Europe,” he told CNBC in a phone interview Tuesday.