20 March 2013: Cyprus might travel east



After serious miscalculations both on the part of the Cypriot government and the euro zones finance ministers, the newly elected President Nikos Anastasiades might be heading east. After building close and friendly relations with Angela Merkel and his German sister party, CDU, during the first month of his Presidency, the real content of these relations were put on a severe test during the Euro zone meeting last Friday.

Anastasiades was met with a done deal. His strong objections and clear statement that the proposed bailout would have no chance to pass Parliament, fell on death ears. When appealing to Merkel for flexibility when calling her on Monday, he was met with a cold shoulder and instruction to talk with the troika. Merkel also strongly advised against any contact with Russia.

This response and the Cypriot parliament’s flat rejection, might have given the Cypriot President exactly the encouragement he needed to demonstrate that he is nobody’s puddle. He is neither the property of the German Chancellor or the European Union. In a critical moment of need what the ruling technocratic elites in Europe were able to come up with, was a proposal to temper with private banking accounts and confiscate from 6.75 to 9,9% of their value. This infuriated everybody concerned from poor Cypriot pensioners to rich Russian oligarchs, Arab sheikhs and ordinary employees with small accounts. Nobody likes to have their savings stolen. Over the last days the Euro zone proposal has created an uproar. We can see the beginning of global financial crisis where the Euro falling as a stone and everybody asks which are the next banks to fall.

If this was a calculated risk on behalf of European technocrats they are paying a high price completely overlooking the explosive political dimension in Southern Europe. The President of European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, was as late as in September willing to take whatever it takes to save the Euro. By his strong statement he stabilized euro zone markets and the common currency. By treating a small, but very proud nation as a given entity, the euro zone and the financial markets are plunged back to where they were a year ago. The result of the German inspired austerities are there for everyone to see; negative growth, mass unemployment and new lost youth generations, especially in the periphery of Europe. This does not inspire belief in the high values of democracy and freedom preached by European technocrats.

During the session in the Cypriot parliament yesterday there was not a single vote in favor of the European bail out. Outside Parliament there were furious demonstrations and flag waving remarkably enough in favor of a Russian solution. No wonder that Anastasiades, humiliated and rejected from his Western European friends, feels for going east. His Minister of Finance is already in Moscow. If the President decides to take the next plane the whole nation shall stand behind him and wish him well in the negotiations. From being the “traitor” selling out Cypriot interests, he might during some days have turned into a national hero.

There is, however, be no easy sell for Anastasiades. President Vladimir Putin was furious and offended for not being consulted either by EU or Cyprus before last Friday’s decision. He found the proposed solution “unfair, unprofessional and with unforeseeable consequences”. Russians are world masters in chess, and each move must be carefully considered not at least from the Cypriot side.

But much is at stake also for Russia. The German Minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said this morning that Cypriots only have themselves to blame when they don’t understand that they have an overblown banking sector. From a logical point of view he might have a point. Psychologically he is building under the image of the arrogant German in a situation where the streets in Southern Europe are boiling and where especially bankers and the Brussels technocratic shall think twice before finger pointing. It might be easier for Anastasiades to find common language with their eastern orthodox brothers in Moscow than with a German Lutheran protestant.

Russia has recently given Cyprus a loan on Euro 2,5 billion. To prolong it with 5 years on better conditions might be the easiest part. But by playing hard ball with EU going east, Cyprus might be seeking a bail out partner for their banks in Moscow. For a Russia which already has deposited Euro 30 – 35 Billion in Cyprus, the 10 billion offered in bail out from EU, IMF and ECB, might seem such an excessive amount of money. And in addition: Qatari and Chinese money bags are flirting at the doors. Newly discovered gas on continental shelf is also a part of the game.

Might be that Western Europe in the end needs Cyprus more than Cyprus ever needed the euro. The Cyprus drama seems just about to begin.     

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