Last weekend, Greece failed to reach an agreement with its three creditors, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. A bankruptcy of the Hellenic Republic is now imminent. If it materializes, a so-called Grexit will follow: Greece will be forced to leave the Eurozone -- the group of 19 European Union (EU) member states that use the euro as their common currency. Leaving the Eurozone automatically means that, under the EU treaties, Greece will also have to leave the EU.
Across Greece, people have been lining up to withdraw money from cash machines, most of which have run out of money, after the government ordered banks to close for six days starting Monday. (Image source: Reuters video screenshot)
Grexit is likely to lead to economic and political turmoil in Greece, a hugely important strategic country, which borders on an increasingly unstable part of the world. Greece lies on the Mediterranean, fewer than 350 kilometers to the north of the Libyan coastal town of Derna, a stronghold of the Islamic terrorists of ISIS. It was here that, last February, ISIS beheaded 21 Coptic Egyptian prisoners, and vowed to conquer Europe. The threat to Greece's eastern borders is even greater. Greece is currently being inundated by illegal immigrants, arriving from Turkey by sea. Each day in June, human traffickers were transporting between 650 and 1,000 migrants by boat from Turkish ports to Greece. Last January, ISIS revealed that it is smuggling terrorists into Europe by hiding them among the migrants leaving Turkey.
If Greece leaves the EU, it is highly unlikely that it will try to prevent the illegal immigrants from travelling on to the rest of Europe. On the contrary, in March, Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos vowed to flood the rest of Europe with immigrants if the EU should allow Greece to go bankrupt. "If Europe leaves us in the crisis, we will flood it with immigrants, and it will be even worse for Berlin if in that wave of millions of economic immigrants there will be some jihadists of the Islamic State, too," the Greek minister said. All the newcomers to Greece, Kammenos said, would be given papers, so they "could go straight to Berlin." Greece is a member of NATO. The whole world could witness how the defense minister of one NATO country was threatening other NATO members with unleashing Islamic terrorists on them.
A Greek exit from the EU will not only mean a rupture with its Western European neighbors, who are all members of NATO as well, but is also likely to affect the entire Atlantic partnership. It will lead to a power vacuum in the southeastern corner of Europe, which Russia will be only too eager to fill.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was recently in Moscow to sign a gas deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The deal allows the Russians to build a natural gas pipeline across Greece that will carry Russian gas to Europe. The construction of the pipeline will not only create 20,000 new jobs in Greece, but Russia will also pay Greece hundreds of millions of dollars annually in transit payments. Speaking about the pipeline deal, Putin offhandedly remarked to the international media that he saw no support for the Greeks from the EU.
There are also rumors that Athens might allow Russia the use of Greek military bases. Russia is expanding militarily in the Black Sea and the eastern part of the Mediterranean. Greece could also serve as a base for the Russians to strengthen their position in the Balkans. If Greece were to turn its back on NATO, it could become a geographical link between Russia and its Balkan vassal, Serbia -- a process that would link the three Christian-Orthodox nations of Russia, Serbia and Greece.
But the Russians are not the only ones closely following the events in Greece and hoping for geopolitical benefits. For some time, China's influence in Greece has also been expanding. The Chinese state-owed Cosco Group recently bought the container terminal in Greece's largest port, Piraeus. The port was privatized after demands from the EU. The Chinese are currently negotiating with the Greek government to acquire an even larger part of Piraeus.
Both Russia and China are eager to strengthen their position in Greece if it were to turn its back on Europe and NATO. The consequences of Grexit will not merely be economic. The strategic implications are at least as important, and far-reaching.