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With April approaching and cash disappearing, will Greece switch its allegiance from Europe to the Eurasian Economic Union

With Greece facing an equally destructive choice between implementing extremely unpopular reforms or leaving the Eurozone, Greek government eyes are starting to look towards Russia as an alternative source of quick funding.

Alex Christoforou

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Post originally appeared on Zerohedge.

With fresh rumors springing late on Friday that “this” just may be the weekend Greece – with close to no funds left in either the financial or government sector – imposes capital controls, a precursor to a full-fledged Grexit, the situation in Athens is on a knife’s edge. Yesterday is also when the Syriza government submitted its list of 18 proposed reforms to the Troika: a reform package which the Guardian dubs reform-for-cash“, as Greece hopes the roughly €3 billion in revenue generated from the reforms will unlock €7.2 billion in financial assistance.

Rather, make that promises of reforms to generate €3 billion in revenue. Because the question, and problem for Athens, is which comes first: does Greece implement the reforms and generate the revenue or does Europe disburse the funds. It is a problem because the reforms will be extremely unpopular if and when they pass. According to Bloomberg, which sources Greek Skai TV, among the proposed reforms is an increase on the duty paid on cigarettes and alcohol. Other proposals include:

  • Lift sales tax on certain items while keeping a low rate for food products
  • Combat tax evasion including fines for non-payment of tax or failing to declare income; combat black market trade of fuel
  • Intensive controls of the names in Lagarde-List (more than 2,000 name suspect of tax evasion) and money transfers abroad.
  • Online system connecting companies to tax offices, and electronic system for the payment of Value Added Tax
  • Freeze early pensions, consolidate social security funds, create a national wealth fund
  • Continue with certain privatizations
  • Encourage issuance of retail sales receipts including linking collection to participation in a lottery
  • Overhaul tax process for games of chance, real estate and heating oil
  • Issue licenses for media companies

The 18 proposals, three times as many as put forward and dismissed by prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s government last month, anticipate GDP growth of 1.4% this year: about 1% less thanwhere the most optimistic analysts see the US growing. The package also endorsed finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s argument that the primary surplus demanded of Greece would have to be reduced. As such, the primary surplus was estimated to hit 1.5% in 2015 – half that in the country’s existing bailout programme. Unfortunately for Greece, considering the collapse in tax collections in recent months, Athens can kiss any hope of a positive primary surplus goodbye.

Since all of these proposals, if implemented, will lead to increased tax revenues and thus a decrease in the already low quality of Greek life, whether for everyone or just the 1%, they will be met with stern opposition, especially since they will be seen as going against Syriza’s original radical pre-electoral agenda. Which is also why as the Guardian reported, “the country’s international economic affairs minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, raised the stakes, saying while Greece wanted an agreement it was prepared to go its own way “in the event of a bad scenario… We are working in the spirit of compromise, we want a solution, but if things don’t go well you have to bear the bad scenario in mind as well. That is the nature of negotiations.”

Once again Greece is unable to determine when it has lost the negotiations, and while giving with one hand, it tries to take with the other. And this is the biggest problem, because for Europe while the amount of the money transfer is modest, what it wants more than anything is to see the “radical” spirit of the Syriza government crushed.The problem for Greece is that this is not happening, especially with statements such as this:

“The government is not going to continue servicing public debt with its own funds if lenders do not immediately proceed with the disbursement of funds which have been put on hold since 2014,” said government aides. “The country has not taken receipt of an aid instalment from the EU or IMF since August 2014 even though it has habitually fulfilled its obligations.”

Then there was the prime minister himself, who said in an interview with Real News that Greece won’t agree to any wage or pension cuts nor allow mass redundancies. Again: the issue is that the Troika, or whatever it is called, wants precisely this: they want real reforms, by which they mean that Greece finally has to implement some/any of the long ago promised and never delivered redundancies in the government sector.

What is surprising is just how naive Tsipras now appears with his continued populist rhetoric even after it has been revealed that he has no more leverage, with the threat of Grexit taken off the table. Some of his other soundbites:

  • An agreement in June with Greece’s creditors will only concern changing debt repayment terms and debt relief measures
  • Democratic Europe won’t choose a rupture regarding Greece
  • One of government’s priorities is beginning and completing tender for broadcasting licenses
  • Won’t tolerate officials who put personal political interests above those of govt and Syriza party

And then there is the Greek energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, who said in an interview with Kefalaio newspaper that the “only way for Greece to exit its crisis is through tough confrontation, if not conflict, with “German Europe.”

Making sure the ongoing negotiations between (almost completely broke) Greece and the Troika take 1.4% steps forward and ten steps back, the energy minister said the Greek reform list can’t be opposed to Syriza’s radical program or be above popular will, sovereignty. As noted above, this is precisely what it would take for the Troika to release the funds.

Reuters confirmed as much earlier when it reported that as Athens battles to have a list of reforms accepted by its EU partners in order to secure much-needed funds to stave off bankruptcy, Lafazanis criticized Berlin and said the government must not roll back on its commitments.

“No list should go over the will and sovereignty of the people,” he told Kefalaio newspaper in an interview on Saturday. “The Germanized European Union is literally choking our country and tightening week by week the noose around the economy,” he said.

Virtually assuring Germany’s fure, Lafazanis said that “if the government suspends pre-election promises, Greece will be driven over cliff’s edge” adding that “privatizations, especially in strategic areas, can’t and won’t happen.” Alas, the Troika said it will, and the Troika writes the checks, so…

The punchline: “Greece is at more than breaking point; urgently needs big, bold alternatives to “German, incumbent Europe”and that “creditors behaving as unscrupulous imperialists towards distant colony, threatening submission or economic suffocation.”

More importantly, Lafazanis has some ideas where to find said “big, bold alternatives.” In Moscow.

Greece’s Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis will meet his Russian counterpart and the CEO of energy giant Gazprom in Moscow on Monday, as he hit out at the EU and Germany for tightening a ‘noose’ around the Greek economy.

Outspoken Lafazanis, on the left wing of Greece’s co-ruling Syriza party, will meet Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller as well as other senior government officials, the energy ministry said on Saturday.

Lafazanis’ visit will come just over a week before Tsipras is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow although the Greek government has stressed it is not seeking funding from the Kremlin.

It is not seeking funding form the Kremlin yet. Because once the first week of April comes and goes and Greece officially runs out of money, it will go to anyone who can provide it with the funds needed to avoid civil war, even if that means switching its allegiance from Europe to the Eurasian Economic Union, something Russia is eagerly looking forward to, and something we predicted would be the endgame months ago.

References:

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-03-28/greek-minister-slams-unscrupulous-imperialist-germany-will-seek-bold-alternatives-ru

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Peace on Korean Peninsula within reach, if only Trump can remove Pompeo & Bolton (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 152.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou discuss the results of the Putin-Kim summit in Vladivostok, Russia, aimed at boosting bilateral ties between the two neighboring countries, as well as working to contribute to a final peace settlement on the Korean peninsula.

Putin’s meeting with Kim may prove to be a pivotal diplomatic moment, as North Korea continues to work towards normalizing ties with the U.S. amidst ongoing denuclearization talks with the Trump White House.

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Via the BBC…

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un needs international security guarantees if he is to end his nuclear programme.

Such guarantees would need to be offered within a multinational framework, he added, following talks near Vladivostok in Russia’s far east.

Mr Kim praised the summit as a “very meaningful one-on-one exchange”.

Mr Putin said North Korea’s leader was “fairly open” and had “talked freely on all issues that were on the agenda”.

The meeting followed the breakdown of talks between the US and North Korea in February, when Mr Kim met US President Donald Trump in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

Those talks reportedly stalled over North Korea’s demand for full economic sanctions relief in return for some denuclearisation commitments – a deal the US was not willing to make.

Speaking after the talks on Thursday, Mr Putin said he wanted to see full denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

But he said this could only be achieved through respect for international law.

“We need to restore the power of international law, to return to a state where international law, not the law of the strongest, determines the situation in the world,” he said.

Mr Kim greeted Russian officials warmly when he arrived in Russia on Wednesday.

The North Korean leader was entertained by a brass band in Vladivostok before he got inside a car flanked by bodyguards, who – in now familiar scenes – jogged alongside the vehicle as it departed.

What do we know about the summit?

According to the Russian presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin believes the six-party talks on North Korea, which are currently stalled, are the only efficient way of addressing the issue of nuclear weapons on the peninsula.

Those talks, which began in 2003, involve the two Koreas as well as China, Japan, Russia and the US.

“There are no other efficient international mechanisms at the moment,” Mr Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.

“But, on the other hand, efforts are being made by other countries. Here all efforts merit support as long as they really aim at de-nuclearisation and resolving the problem of the two Koreas.”

What do both sides want?

This visit is being widely viewed as an opportunity for North Korea to show it has powerful allies following the breakdown of the talks with the US in February.

The country has blamed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the collapse of the Hanoi summit. Earlier this month North Korea demanded that Mr Pompeo be removed from nuclear talks, accusing him of “talking nonsense” and asking for someone “more careful” to replace him.

The summit is also an opportunity for Pyongyang to show that its economic future does not depend solely on the US. Mr Kim may try to put pressure on Moscow to ease sanctions.

Analysts say the summit is an opportunity for Russia to show that it is an important player on the Korean peninsula.

President Putin has been eager to meet the North Korean leader for quite some time. Yet amid the two Trump-Kim summits, the Kremlin has been somewhat sidelined.

Russia, like the US and China, is uncomfortable with North Korea being a nuclear state.

How close are Russia and North Korea?

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union (of which Russia is the main successor state) maintained close military and trade links with its communist ally, North Korea, for ideological and strategic reasons.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, trade links with post-communist Russia shrank and North Korea leaned towards China as its main ally.

Under President Putin, Russia recovered economically and in 2014 he wrote off most of North Korea’s Soviet-era debt in a major goodwill gesture.

While it is arguable how much leverage Russia has with the North today, the communist state still regards it as one of the least hostile foreign powers.

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Putin meets Kim for the first time (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a look at the historic meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the city of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East.

The meeting marks the first ever summit between the two leaders.

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Follow The Duran Audio Podcast on Soundcloud.

Via RT…

Leaders of Russia and North Korea sat down for a historic summit in Vladivostok, expressing hope it will revive the peace process in the Korean Peninsula and talks on normalizing relations with the US.

The summit on Russky Island, just off Vladivostok, started a little late because President Vladimir Putin’s flight was delayed. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had made the trip by train, arriving on Wednesday.

In brief public remarks before the talks, the two leaders expressed hope the summit will help move forward the reconciliation process in the Korean Peninsula. Putin welcomed Kim’s contributions to “normalizing relations” with the US and opening a dialogue with South Korea.

Kim said he hoped the Vladivostok summit would be a “milestone” in the talks about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, but also build upon “traditionally friendly ties” between Russia and North Korea.

The North Korean leader also made a point of thanking Putin for flying all the way to Vladivostok for the meeting. The Far East Russian city is only 129 kilometers from the border with North Korea.

The historic summit takes place less than two months after Kim’s second summit with US President Donald Trump in Hanoi fell apart without a breakthrough on denuclearization. The US rejected North Korea’s request for partial sanctions relief in return for moves to dismantle nuclear and missile programs; Washington insists on full disarmament before any sanctions are removed.

Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the main subject of the Kim-Putin summit, but there will also be talks about bilateral relations, trade, and humanitarian aid. The first one-on-one meeting is scheduled to last about an hour, followed by further consultations involving other government officials.

Following the summit, Putin is scheduled to visit China.

 

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Kim And Putin: Changing The State Of The Board In Korea

The future of Korea could be decided by these two men today.

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Authored by Tom Luongo:


Today is a big day for Korea. The first face-to-face summit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un takes place.

At the same time the 2nd annual Belt and Road Forum kicks off in Beijing.

This meeting between Putin and Kim has been in the works for a while but rumors of it only surfaced last week. But don’t let the idea that this was put together at the last minute fool you.

It wasn’t.

The future of Korea could be decided by these two men today.

I know that sounds bold. But hear me out.

And while no one seems to think this meeting is important or that anything of substance will come from it I do. It is exactly the kind of surprise that Putin loves to spring on the world without notice and by doing so change the board state of geopolitics.

  • Russia’s entrance into Syria in 2015, two days after Putin’s historic speech at the U.N. General Assembly
  • 2018’s State of the Union address where he announced hypersonic missiles, embarrassing the U.S. Militiary-Industrial Complex which accelerated the Bolton Doctrine of subjugating the world
  • Flying 2 TU-160 nuclear-armed bombers to Venezuela, creating panic in D.C. leading to the ham-fisted regime change operations there.
  • Nationalization of Yukos.
  • The operation to secure Crimea from U.S. invasion by marines aboard the U.S.S Donald Cook during the Ukrainian uprising against Viktor Yanukovich.

Both Putin and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping are angry at the breakdown of the talks in Hanoi back in February. It was clear that everyone expected that meeting to be a rubber stamp on a deal already agreed to by all parties involved.

In fact the two meetings between Kim and Trump were only possible because Trump convinced them of his sincerity to resolve the ‘denuclearization’ of North Korea which would clear a path to rapid reunification.

It’s why they went along with the U.S.’s increased sanctions on North Korea as administered through the U.N. in 2017.

That John Bolton and Mike Pompeo destroyed those talks and Trump was unwilling or unable (who cares at this point, frankly, useless piece of crap that he is) to stop them embarrassed and betrayed them.

They are now done with Trump.

He’ll get nothing from either of them or Kim until Trump can prove he’s in charge of his administration, which he, clearly, is not.

And they will be moving forward with their own agenda for security and Asian economic integration. So I don’t think the timing of this meeting with that of the Belt and Road Forum is an accident.

And that means moving forward on solving the Korea problem without Trump.

It is clear from the rhetoric of Putin’s top diplomat, the irreplaceable Sergei Lavrov, that Russia’s patience is over. They are no longer interested in what Trump wants and they will now treat the U.S. as a threat, having upped their military stance towards the U.S. to that of “Threat.”

If Bolton wants anything from Russia at this point he best be prepared to start a war or piss off.

This is also why Russia took the gloves off with Ukraine in the run up to the Presidential elections, cutting off energy and machinery exports with Ukraine.

To put paid Putin’s growing impatience with U.S. policies, he just issued the order to allow residents of Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics to apply for Russian passports.

This will send Bolton into apoplexy. Angela Merkel of Germany will be none too pleased either. Putin is now playing hardball after years of unfailing politeness.

It’s also why Lavrov finalized arms and port deals all over the Middle East in recent weeks, including those with Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and India.

Bolton, Pompeo and Pence are ideologues. Trump is a typical Baby Boomer, who lives in a bubble of his own design and believes in an America that never existed.

None of them truly understand the fires they are stoking and simply believe in the Manifest Destiny of the U.S. to rule the world over a dim and barbaric world.

Putin, Xi, Rouhani in Iran and Kim in North Korea are pragmatic men. They understand the realities they live in. This is why I see Putin willing tomorrow to sit down with Kim and flaunt the U.N. sanctions and begin the investment process into North Korea that should have begun last year.

Putin would not be making these moves if he didn’t feel that Bolton was all bark and no bite when it came to actual war with Russia. He also knows that Germany needs him more than he needs Germany so despite the feet-dragging and rhetoric Nordstream 2 will go forward.

Trade is expanding between them despite the continued sanctions.

Putin may be willing to cut a deal with President-elect Zelensky on gas transit later in the year but only if the shelling of the LPR and DPR stops and he guarantees no more incidents in the Sea of Azov. This would also mollify Merkel a bit and make it easier for her politically to get Nordstream 2 over the finish line.

There are moments in history when people go too far. Bolton and Pompeo went too far in Hanoi. He will pay the price now. Putin and Kim will likely agree to something in Vladivostok that no one is expecting and won’t look like much at first.

But the reality is this summit itself marks a turning point in this story that will end with the U.S. being, in Trump’s transactional parlance, a “price taker” since it has so thoroughly failed at being a “price maker.”

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