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Risk analyst Ian Bremmer says Greece on right track, needs help

By Tom Ellis

“The Greek economy is becoming stronger and will become more competitive with time, Ian Bremmer, the president of leading global political risk research and consulting firm Eurasia Group, told Kathimerini in a recent interview.

The New York-based political scientist, who specializes in states in transition and global political risk, sees multiple advantages in Azerbaijan’s decision to back the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) for transporting natural gas to Western Europe via Greece, underscoring the geopolitical and economic benefits for Greece and the strengthening of ties between Athens, Ankara and Tirana that the energy network may bring.

Bremmer also says that he never believed that Greece was at risk of being ousted from the eurozone, arguing that no one really wanted to see such a development, though he adds that the crisis-hit country is not quite yet on the road to recovery and needs “better” international support.

In regard to regional developments, Bremmer argues that the real problem behind the recent Turkish unrest is the personality of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He also says that the international community is more comfortable with the military taking over in Egypt, adding that the United States has to decide what stance it will take on Syria.

How does the world view Greece’s course of action? Is the Greek economy getting better? Prime Minister Antonis Samaras says we have moved from the “Grexit” to the “Grecovery” phase.

On balance, yes, Greece’s economy is getting stronger. Grexit was never a real possibility because no one in power really wanted it. It would have been bad for Greece, bad for Germany, bad for Europe and bad for the global economy.

We haven’t quite reached a Grecovery, but Greece is going to come back to the markets. The country has endured extraordinary pain, but it is going to become a much more competitive economy over time.

Greece needs better support internationally; slow growth across the eurozone is not helping.

How do you view the decision to have natural gas transported through Greece to European markets?

The selection of TAP [the Trans Adriatic Pipeline] is good news for Greece. TAP will bring Azeri gas into the Greek market, contributing to a kind of double diversification, with a new supply source and a new route that ease Greece’s dependence on Russia’s Gazprom. TAP will produce transit revenues, though not before the end of this decade. The pipeline will also be a major source of foreign direct investment, drawing money into the country and stimulating job creation. Finally, the pipeline is a geopolitical win for Greece because it bolsters stability and security in the Balkan region and Southeastern Europe, and boosts Greek relations with Albania and Turkey. TAP was far from an obvious choice, given that deep recessions in Greece and Italy have lowered demand for gas, and Albania has yet to build natural gas infrastructure.

How do the Europeans and the Americans view these developments?

Both the European Union and the United States are very supportive of European gas supply diversification as TAP helps open the Southern Gas Corridor, adding a fourth supply corridor of gas to the EU. And though the rival Nabucco West pipeline would have been better suited than TAP to relieve deepening dependence on Russian gas in Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, the construction of new interconnectors and further market integration will probably allow Azeri gas to flow to other parts of Europe, notably from south to north.

How deep is the internal crisis in Turkey?

Some analysts are overreacting, in my opinion, to what we’re seeing in Istanbul. These demonstrations and the conflict they have created are striking for Turkey, but they have little in common with the upheaval we’ve seen in the Arab world. The size of Turkey’s population is similar to Egypt’s, but its economy is four times larger. And the difference between autocracy and democracy is crucial here. The Justice and Development Party [AKP] has been in power for more than a decade because it has won three consecutive elections – and has done so with impressive vote margins. Turkey’s opposition is not particularly strong, but Erdogan’s critics do have outlets for protest that Hosni Mubarak’s challengers did not have in Egypt. Nor does this conflict have the sectarian or ethnic dimension that underlies conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other neighbors of Turkey.

The trouble in Turkey is Erdogan’s inflexible personality. He governs a country in which there are deep divisions over the national identity. The protests in Taksim Square began over the development of a public park, but they have always been about Erdogan’s unwillingness to moderate his plans out of respect for those who don’t agree with him. And they have intensified because the security crackdown feeds the suspicion, fairly or unfairly, that Erdogan will choose brute force over political compromise.

Is political stability in the country under threat?

Turkey’s political stability is not at stake, but Erdogan’s own future is very much so. Plans to change the constitution to create a powerful presidency and his bid to win a presidential election next year are now in doubt. The most interesting question for Turkey is whether the elite within the Justice and Development Party will at some point decide they are better off without Erdogan. Much will depend on his ability to cast the protest movement as focused on something other than his leadership style.

How do you assess the situation in Egypt and the future of the country after the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi?

For now, outsiders are resisting any pressure or temptation to get involved, instead choosing to wait and see what happens next. Morsi has little support outside the country, and most governments are comfortable with a strong military role for as long as it helps Egypt remain stable and predictable. That means continued engagement from the IMF and key international donors. But let’s remember that Egypt is competing for international attention with other crises in the region, especially the ongoing war in Syria that has now killed more than 100,000 people. Egyptians themselves will decide what happens next in their country.

How do you see the future of the country?

The most likely outcome is that Egypt will have a political environment that looks more like Pakistan’s. The military will backstop a series of weak civilian governments that include members of the Muslim Brotherhood, engaging those willing to work for temporary stability. Egypt will not be an influential force in the region for some time to come. But if the military is unable to impose even that much stability, we can expect growing violence and civil confrontation, with expanded military action and the risk of outright state failure in the country.

Where is the situation in Syria heading? Should the West arm the rebels?

An offer of arms to the rebels wouldn’t solve Syria’s problems. It certainly wouldn’t decrease the bloodshed – in the near term, it will almost assuredly do the opposite – and it is bad policy for the United States, for two reasons: First, the US would be arming a largely unknown opposition force, and once it offers military aid, it will increasingly be attached to the rebels – and to any atrocities they commit before or after toppling [President Bashar al-] Assad. Ultimately, if the rebels are able to defeat Assad, the war’s legacy will leave sectarian warlords grappling for power, keeping the country violent and volatile for some time to come.

Second, what if the rebels lose? In the past few weeks, Assad has been consolidating his military position and regaining the edge in the civil war. The Iranians have been arming the regime. A clear rebel victory will thus be bloodier – and is now more unlikely. Once the United States arms the rebels, it’s an implicit backstop: Should the rebels require a no-fly zone down the road, the US would feel political pressure to provide it. The United States would have to assume whatever cost is necessary to keep the rebels afloat. So Washington should recognize where things are heading and take decisive action – one way or the other – as soon as possible. It’s time to move in completely or stay completely out.

So what should the US and the West do?

President [Barack] Obama must make clear that the US is going to directly intervene to tip the scales in favor of the rebels or make clear that Washington will remain deeply involved diplomatically without intervening militarily. Arming the rebels is a half-measure that increases risks and costs without solving any problems.

ekathimerini.com , Tuesday Jul 23, 2013 (09:49)  
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