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Greek PM Alexis Tsipras hesitated to fully pivot to the BRICS future, and now is caught in EU no man’s land

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has been playing a dangerous game with Moscow and the EU that is now falling apart…leaving Greece with few, if any options, and at the mercy of a punishing European Union.

Alex Christoforou

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Post originally appeared on Russia Insider, “Playing Russia and Europe off Against Each Other Is Losing Greece Friends”, by Alexander Mercouris.

The great British historian AJP Taylor once said in my presence that Western politicians tend to think of Russia as a tap they can turn on and off whenever they like.

By that he meant by that Western politicians expect Russia’s help when they need it, but never feel under any obligation to give anything back in return.

Taylor was speaking about the diplomacy that led to the Second World War.  However it is starting to look as if the same is true of Greece’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras.

Tsipras was elected on a contradictory promise of ending austerity and keeping Greece in the eurozone.

He seems to have trusted in his own powers of persuasion – and the economic logic of his case – to achieve this remarkable feat.  I am told by people in Greece who are in a position to know that he had – and has – no Plan B.

Tsipras’s faith in his success seems to have been based on a belief that European demands for austerity were a bluff and that Greece is too important to the euro project and in geopolitical terms for its expulsion from the eurozone to be considered.

This presumably is what lies behind the extraordinary game Tsipras has been playing with Moscow.

In January, immediately following his election, in a move that caused anxious buzzing in European capitals and which must have provoked interest in Moscow, Tsipras met with the Russian ambassador before any others.

His government then made known its concerns about the way in which the extension of EU sanctions against Russian individuals and companies was railroaded through later that month.

He then announced he was going to go to Moscow to meet Putin, and he duly did so in March.

As I have discussed previously (see Grexit Looks Inevitable. But Greece Will Need Moscow’s Help, Russia Insider, 27th April 2015) this visit led to expectations of financial deals and of a major gas pipeline agreement.  Gazprom’s chief Alexei Miller went to Athens in April to negotiate it.

In the event nothing happened.  Though I am told a deal that came with a $5 billion prepayment was ready for signature on 23rd April 2015, it went unsigned and Miller left Athens empty handed.

Here I should say that the gas pipeline offer the Russians made to Tsipras in April was intended to help Greece.  It was not part of an elaborate play by the Russians in pursuit of some great gas pipeline strategy.  As this is a complex point, I will discuss it in more detail in another article.

The Russians must have been annoyed to be stood up in this way, but characteristically they said nothing.

What followed must have annoyed them even more.

At the time of his trip to Moscow in March Tsipras led everyone to think he would attend the 9th May Victory Parade in Moscow.

This would have been an important symbolic act. Tsipras would have broken with the rest of the EU, which was boycotting the event.

Such a step would have been very popular in Greece.  Attitudes to Russia in Greece are very positive.  Most Greeks think of Russia as the fellow Orthodox country that liberated Greece from the Ottomans.  Most Greeks – unlike many Europeans and Americans – are also fully aware of Russia’s immense contribution to the defeat of fascism in the Second World War.

Last but not least, many Greeks have family connections with Russia.  Many were born there or have lived there.  Those Greeks with such connections to Russia tend to view Russia very positively.

Without any clear explanation Tsipras then reversed himself and failed to go – something that provoked much more public criticism of him in Greece than it did in Russia.

Over the last 7 days the same pattern has repeated itself.

On Thursday Tsipras went to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum – making him the only Western leader to do so.

There he met Putin again.

This time a gas deal of sorts was signed.  The details however are vague and it looks less generous than the deal the Russians offered in March and April.  It did not come with the offer of a $5 billion pre-payment that came with the offer made in April.

Meanwhile, at the same time as Tsipras was flying to St. Petersburg, Tsipras’s representative in Brussels was agreeing to an extension of EU sanctions against Russia (see EU Extends Sanctions Against Russia, Russia Insider, 18th June 2015 ). Tsipras himself tamely agreed to this at the European Council meeting on Monday.

At the same European Council meeting Tsipras capitulated in principle to all the demands the Europeans and the IMF made of him.  Reversing what he promised at the time of his election, he agreed to an extension of austerity in return for more bailout money.

He has since found, in the classic scenario of someone being blackmailed, that his concessions were not enough, and have simply led to the blackmailer raising his demands.

The result is that not surprisingly Tsipras now looks like someone who has cut deals with the Russians he is not going to be able to honour (see A New Problem for Athens: How to ‘Unpivot’ From Russia After Capitulating to the EU, Russia Insider, 24th June 2015).

The Russians had almost certainly figured that out for themselves before Tsipras went to St. Petersburg, which is why the deal they offered Tsipras in St. Petersburg was less generous than the one they offered him in April.

This is poor diplomacy by any standard.

If Tsipras’s policy is to play the Russians and the Europeans off against each other, then it is a bad policy.

It has not panicked the Europeans into making concessions.  It has made them angry, causing them to increase their demands even more.

As for the Russians, they must be getting increasingly fed up with someone who repeatedly takes them to the Church door – and then at the last moment runs away.

If Tsipras was not prepared to see through his moves to Moscow, then he should not have made them.

He would have been better off in that case going to Washington instead of Moscow. There is also much sympathy for Greece in Washington, and the US, unlike Russia, can put actual pressure on the IMF and EU to cut Greece some slack.

Instead, by making moves to Moscow that he repeatedly fails to see through, Tsipras has lost possible friends in Europe and the US, whilst putting Greece’s traditionally friendly relations with Russia in jeopardy.

Anyone who knows Russia knows the friendly feelings Russians have for Greece.

If a Grexit happens  – which is very possible despite Tsipras’s latest concessions – Greece will need Russia’s help (see again Grexit Looks Inevitable. But Greece Will Need Moscow’s Help, Russia Insider, 27th April 2015).

Hopefully what looks like a frankly manipulative policy will not have soured Russian attitudes by then.

References:

http://russia-insider.com/en/business/tsiprass-policy-playing-russia-and-europe-against-each-other-losing-greece-friends/ri8286

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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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