Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Business and Pleasure

So Russia can't afford to bail out Greece, so that is no option for Athens to avoid their creditors? What if Russia has bigger plans?

I've wondered if Greece might play the Russia card. This author says Russia won't pay:

If Moscow fears it has lost (most of) Ukraine, might it have designs on the allegiance of Greece, as some sort of recompense?

This is the alarmist scenario that is being held out in some quarters, including Germany’s Bild tabloid. The argument goes that if Athens and Berlin cannot come to terms that would allow Greece to remain in the euro, then Greece could flounce out, accept a bailout from Moscow, and make a new start as the western outpost of an Orthodox world, rather than soldiering on as a poor relation at the eastern edge of the EU.

Such thinking, however, ignores a host of realities. The first, and most basic, is Russia’s present situation. Of course, Moscow has an interest in courting possible new allies, at a time when it finds itself quarantined by the EU and the US. More elementary even than this: it is probably grateful for anyone to talk to, at a time when few people want to go to Moscow unless it is to make representations about Ukraine.

But it has to be asked whether Russia could actually afford to bail Greece out, even if it thought the price worth paying.

Indeed, finding the money for a bail-out of Greece to pay their debts would be difficult for Russia.

What if Russia offers not a bail-out, which requires Russian money, but a way out--which only requires Greece to repudiate their debts and seek credit in an alternative Russian-Chinese banking network?

As the EU wrings its hands over what to do about renewed fighting in Eastern Ukraine, Russian bankers are opening a new front against the West: by threatening to build a financial transfer system that Western sanctions can’t throttle.

While Russia doesn't have the resources for something like that, their big brother China sure does with its new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB):

AIIB is one of several new financial institutions that China has tried to midwife over the past year or so that many have viewed as direct competitors to the U.S.-created international financial institutions like the IMF, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank (ADB). The United States has articulated two concerns about the AIIB: that it was an organization designed to marginalize the ADB, and that in doing so, China would be applying rules and standards in project lending that would be far less friendly to the environment than the U.S.-led institutions.

Whether these concerns are overstated or not isn’t the point. The point is that in recent weeks the Obama administration’s year-long effort to delegitimize and marginalize the AIIB has failed and failed spectacularly. First Britain announced that it would be a founding member of the AIIB against U.S. wishes, surprising even Chinese officials. And then the other dominoes started to fall in rapid succession. Germany, France, and Italy quickly followed suit.

Do read it all. Any writer who correctly applies the term "clusterfuck" deserves a read.

And there is blame to spare for Republicans in Congress in giving China an incentive to build a new system rather than work within ours, so this isn't just a failure of this administration. I remain open to how the blame should be portioned out for China's creation. But the point right now is that it exists and there are consequences.

An alternate (to the US-led) banking system that Russia helps run--even a little--would help avoid Western banking pressure over Ukraine. Attracting other countries using the existing SWIFT system might be something China and Russia would pay for to get the political control in their hands and weaken the existing banking system. Perhaps it doesn't make financial sense. It may make national security sense.

I have to believe that Russia would love to sit in former American bases on Crete as revenge for what Putin sees as our aggression in Ukraine in "his" sphere of influence (on top of what I'm sure is a long list of serious injuries that Putin has written down in a notebook).

And Greece gets a fresh start and the chance to stick it to the Germans.

But since China would be involved, too (and their money would dominate), maybe China gets the facilities in Greece while Russia makes do with Cyprus.

Just don't assume Greece has no options but to knuckle under and play (and pay) by Western rules. There's a new game that Greece can play.