Greece Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras secretly tried to secure a $10 billion loan from someone who has a less-than-cordial relationship with most of the countries to whom Greece owes money, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Had this proposed agreement succeeded, it would have caused considerable anxiety for the European Union and the U.S. Already both entities are uncomfortable with the coziness of Putin and Tsipras, who broke with Washington and Brussels by condemning the EU policy in Ukraine and supporting the referendum for secession in eastern Ukraine.
In news that stunned much of the European political class, the Greek newspaper To Vima reported July 21 that Tsipras made the request for Russian assistance during his two visits with Putin in Moscow earlier this year.
On Saturday, a story in The Financial Times reported Tsipras' behind-the-scenes pursuit of a loan from Putin as part of a plan to launch a new drachma currency. This was before the Greek government finally agreed to the outlines of an 86 billion-euro bailout at the European Union summit.
"Given the Communist past of Mr. Tsipras and other leading government figures, Athens believed it would be a simple matter to win five to 10 billion [euros] in financial backing from Vladimir Putin, the Russian president," the FT's Kerin Hope and Tony Barber reported.
Hope and Barber referred to Panagiotis Lafazanis, who was energy and environment minister in the Tsipras government at the time of the secret talks with Moscow. Lafazanis — like Tsipras a onetime member of Greece’s Communist youth movement — made three trips to Moscow after Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) took power in January.
Lafazanis' goal was "to return the country to the drachma [its former currency before Greece joined the euro in 2001] and increase state control of the economy. In return for signing up for the new gas pipeline project — the South Stream natural gas pipeline, which will pass through Greece — he hoped for at least five billion euros in prepayments of gas transit fees," reported the FT.
On the evening of July 5, however, just as Greeks had voted resoundingly against a third set of guidelines for a bailout offered by Germany and other Eurozone creditors, word came from Russia that Putin would not make the loan and thus support Greece’s return to the drachma.
"After that, Tsipras had no choice left but to 'surrender' to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and sign the third bailout package," according to the Greek Reporter.
In a subsequent cabinet shake-up, Lafazanis was forced out as energy and environment minister for opposing the reforms tied to the bailout.
Following the startling report in To Vima, 17 members of Parliament from the opposition New Democracy Party wrote to Tsipras demanding to know if reports of secret negotiations with Putin were true.
Without hesitation, Kremlin experts who spoke to Newsmax said they believe the reports are truthful.
"I believe this story," Donald Jensen, resident fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Nitze School of International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a regular commentator on post-Soviet affairs. "Russia sees the EU as an adversary and wants to undermine it.
"In this case, [Putin] didn’t have the money and no doubt decided the money he had was better spent elsewhere, such as backing Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France or the Danish People’s Party or others that will intimidate the EU."
A. Craig Copetas, correspondent-at-large for Quartz Communications, who lived in Russia and is author of the much-praised book "Bear Hunting with the Politburo,"
told us: "I've never had any doubt about Putin's willingness to help Tsipras with cash and investment, and Tsipras' eagerness to discuss and move on beneficial projects such as the pipeline.
"Such talks have been taking place for the past three years. Call it more than dinner party knowledge, less than a government spokesman confirming dinner ever took place. The Greek-Russian alliance is nothing new. It's been strong for centuries."
"Alexis Tsipras must tell us the truth about what happened," Stavros Theodorakis, leader of the Greek opposition To Potami party, told reporters. "Members of this government planned a trip to hell for Greeks."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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