The pilgrimage of Greek prime minister AlexisTsipras to Moscow told a tale of two tragedies. One,perilously close to the denouement, is aboutGreece’s uncertain place in the family of Europeannations; the other, still unfolding but with a storylinethat foretells a calamitous final act, is about thefuture not just of the euro but of Europeanintegration.
Predictably enough, the Greek prime minister was feted by Vladimir Putin. The Russianpresident’s revanchist aggression in Ukraine has left his regime more vulnerable than anyonein the Kremlin would dare admit. Mr Putin badly needs to weaken the EU sanctions regime.Shared Orthodox Christianity, an air of leftist nostalgia in Athens and, above all, Greece’sdesperate isolation make it an ideal target for Moscow’s strategy of divide and rule.
不出所料，这位希腊总理受到了弗拉基米尔•普京(Vladimir Putin)的盛情款待。这位俄罗斯总统对乌克兰展开的报复性攻击，致使其政权脆弱到了克里姆林宫所有人都不敢承认的地步。普京迫切需要削弱欧盟的制裁当局。共同的宗教信仰——东正教(Orthodox Christianity)，雅典空气中弥漫的左翼怀旧主义，以及最重要的——希腊目前绝望的孤立状态，使希腊成了莫斯科分治之策的理想目标。
It is harder to see what Mr Tsipras gains beyond a few warm words to cheer his supporters athome. The promise of a gas pipeline years hence? Any aid on offer from Moscow would beminuscule relative to funds from the EU and the International Monetary Fund. There is nothingMr Putin could do that would make leaving the euro any less painful.
The other day I heard Yanis Varoufakis explain how Greece had ended up here. The financeminister’s is a story fluently told — of US backing for the colonels, of the havoc wreaked onindustry by the free trade rules of the EU, of the Brussels funding that bankrolled clientelistpolitics in Athens and of how cheap euros created a ruinous bubble.
There are elements of truth in this; and Mr Varoufakis is right when he says the present debtburden is unsustainable. Missing from the narrative, though, is any sense that Greece mustmake its own choices. That, whatever the sins of others, only Athens can decide whetherGreece prospers as a modern democracy or whether it slips back into the shadows of theBalkans.
The omission, and the implicit rebuke to outsiders who do not feel bound by ballots cast byGreeks, is at the heart of what so frustrates Athens’ partners. This is not just about theGermans, even if Wolfgang Schäuble, Berlin’s finance minister, foolishly lends credibility to theidea. Mr Tsipras is isolated among fellow debtors as much as creditors. What unites them is ademand that Athens produce a plausible plan to reform the Greek state — to modernise itsadministration and politics as much as its economy. Such a plan would transform the moodof negotiations.
Mr Putin’s preference is otherwise. A collapse in Greek living standards would leave it ripe forthe coercion and subversion that are Russia’s trademarks in an effort to expand its influenceand control in southeastern Europe. The Russian president already has Hungary’s primeminister Viktor Orban in his breast pocket. His agents are working hard — exploiting Russia’senergy monopoly, buying politicians, bribing officials and taking stakes in financial institutions— to promote instability across the Balkans.
Yet talk to finance ministers and central bankers across the rest of Europe and the mood is oneof fatalism. They will tell you that the eurozone would withstand Greece’s departure. This isnot 2008, or even 2012, they say. Governments have put in place the mechanisms to deal withcrises. Some sound as if they believe that, freed from the vicissitudes of Greek politics, the eurowould be stronger in the long run.
In a narrow sense they may be right, though I would not bet on it. But Greece is a distortingprism. Its sequential crises have bred complacency by distracting from the profoundstructural flaws and political challenges that still imperil the euro. Making monetary union workdemands more than proficient crisis management.
Spring has seen a burst of sunshine in the European economy. The European Central Bank’squantitative easing is having an effect. Growth has picked up a little. Yet it is a delusion tothink that the euro is in Asafe harbour. Fiscal and financial union are at best half-completed, andthe political threat to the euro continues to grow.
National politicians refuse to admit the supranational imperatives of the project they arepledged to safeguard. And a return to growth rates of 1 or even 2 per cent will not be enoughto restore the euro’s legitimacy among the angry voters who are turning to populistmovements of right and left.
In 2012, European leaders defied the markets by summoning up the political resolve needed tosave the single currency. They have since lost the will to sustain it. Greece may not bring downthe euro; the existential threat lies in the more generalised failure of nerve and leadership.
So it is, too, in the relationship with Moscow. The biggest danger to Europe comes not from theforays of Mr Putin’s rusting aircraft carrier, or his cold war-vintage nuclear bombers, or fromSoviet-style subversion in some of the darker corners of the continent.
No, the real weakness lies in a European mindset that prefers to temporise and equivocatethan to confront Mr Putin head on. Mr Tsipras’s visit may have held up a mirror to Greece’stroubles. But it also offered a reflection of diffidence and division across Europe. If Greecedoes fall out of the euro it will also fall out of Europe. And the failure of the euro would mark thefailure of Europe. What unites these twin tragedies is the stubborn reluctance of the authorsto rewrite the endings.