Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Straw Dogs of Europe

Greece is screwed.

I know that must sound like the easiest summation of current events but it really gets to the heart of the matter much more than any wrangling over debt and pensions and whatever else. By the end of the summer, Greece will either have surrendered its democracy to the ECB's glorified money laundering scheme, or they'll be in the orbit of the Kremlin. That's as lose-lose as it gets.

Others are saying just how much this is about power rather than fiscal policy: "almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there... Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve [French and German] banking systems." But that's been clear to anyone willing to look for years now. It was inevitable that the ECB, IMF, and European Commission would keep pushing the Greek government on the unpopular - and perpetually failing - austerity measures that lead to Syriza sweeping the Samaras government out earlier this year.

What happens next has gotten much less attention. A bunch of think pieces here and there about a "Grexit" which all the Very Serious People agree would be much worse for Greece than just biting the pillow and accepting the Eurozone's terms. But very little talk about the biggest player waiting in the wings: Russia.

All the reporting on the manufactured Greek "crisis" has ignored anything outside the immediate Euro-American context. Western economists and pundits have ameliorated their fears of Greece leaving the Eurozone with the assumption that Syriza won't go that far due to the pain Greece would suffer from the resulting hyperinflation and lack of foreign investment - and the Greek economy is but a house of tourist dollars and euros. Except they never factored Russia into the equation as a potential trade partner for post-Eurozone Greece, something Putin obliquely proposed just recently.

Let's backtrack to some earlier European history. Following World War II, the US and UK worked to jump start the shattered economies of Western Europe while Stalin consolidated his control over the East. Tito and his Yugoslav partisans proved particularly problematic because Tito didn't much care for the Soviet model and had earned himself tremendous popularity by fighting Nazi occupation. While the rest of the Eastern Bloc sat out the Marshal Plan, Tito brokered his own deal with the US for millions of dollars gifted to Yugoslavia - not because the US was all that excited about Serbo-Croat self-determination but because it served a strategic role in the burgeoning Cold War.

Seventy years later and the same could very well play out again, this time with Russia adopting Greece as a jab at NATO and sanctions. Greece needs friends in the international community and Russia is already outside the "respectable" sphere of Euro-American power, so this would be a natural alliance. Some Greeks might even get a kick out of sticking it to the some priggish Brits and Yankees who helped extirpate their own heroic partisans at the same time Washington was cozying up to their socialist neighbors up north.

Except it's Russia. Being their ally has historically been about as healthy as being an enemy of Rome. Putin's territorial ambitions rival those of Stalin, he's just much more shrewd in his methods - the Siloviki can now holiday in Crimea like they did in the Brezhnev era, but you won't see any VDV parachuting into Ukraine no matter what the hysterical neocons say. Putin arguably believes in the Eurasianism he espouses - at least more than Stalin believed in Marxism - but like ol' Koba is determined that Russia be the "first among equals." Greece won't get Sovietized like the Poles or Czechs in 1950, but they'd still be a client state, beholden to the whims of the Kremlin as much as they're now beholden to French and German bankers.

But what options does Greece really have? The austerity imposed by the ECB broke the last government and the people in Syriza are smart enough to understand that buckling will cost them the next election. More importantly, the austerity still demanded by the Eurozone is simply untenable given the current Greek economy. A lawyer in Athens makes less these days than a dishwasher in Baltimore while university students dream of being moderately successful farmers. Talk to any Greek and they'll point to a feeling of hopelessness throughout the country, among all professions and classes. If one Great Power is threatening you with insolvency and a crushed economy, why not sign on with the other Great Power even if only out of spite?

That's the ugly reality of the Eurozone's failed love affair with austerity. At best they've broken one of their own members and kneecapped the periphery market Germany's much-vaunted economy desperately needs to maintain its own profits. At worst, they're pushing more of Europe into Russia's orbit. For Greece, it's two sides of the same bad future.

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