Greek Leader Gives Quick Signal of Sharp Shift ; Leftist's Cabinet Choices and Stance on Russia Pose Challenges to E.U

By Yardley, Jim | International New York Times, January 28, 2015 | Go to article overview

Greek Leader Gives Quick Signal of Sharp Shift ; Leftist's Cabinet Choices and Stance on Russia Pose Challenges to E.U


Yardley, Jim, International New York Times


The leftists' victory, with aid from the right, imperils the status quo in Europe.

From the makeup of his cabinet to an early warning sent to the European Union over Russia policy, Greece's new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, signaled a sharp shift in direction for Greece on Tuesday as he unveiled the first government led from the far left in the country's modern history.

Two days after he ousted Greek's conservative government in an emphatic election victory, Mr. Tsipras, 40, assembled a new, streamlined cabinet dominated by members of his left-wing Syriza party, among them academics, labor activists and human rights advocates.

His most closely watched selection was his new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, an economist and avid blogger who has described Europe's austerity policies as "fiscal waterboarding."

European leaders began to send their congratulations on Tuesday, after a mostly chilly initial response to the victory by Syriza, which is demanding a renegotiation of the tough terms of Europe's bailout of Greece that totaled 240 billion euros, or $275 billion.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany wished him "much strength and success," if also noting that "you are taking office in a difficult time in which you face great responsibility."

Mr. Tsipras quickly demonstrated that Europe must not treat Greece as a weak junior partner. On Tuesday, his government denounced a European Commission statement in which European leaders blamed Russia for the escalating violence in Ukraine and raised the prospect of new economic sanctions.

In its own statement, Mr. Tsipras's office said the European statement had been issued "without the consent of Greece." The prime minister also complained by telephone to Federica Mogherini, the E.U. foreign policy chief.

Mr. Tsipras has been a sharp critic of European sanctions, and has also displayed past goodwill toward Russia, a sentiment common among many Greeks. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sent Mr. Tsipras a congratulatory telegram on Monday, the day he was sworn into office, while that same day Mr. Tsipras visited the Russian ambassador in Athens.

Having a Greek prime minister with a strongly dissenting view on Russian sanctions could greatly complicate European Union foreign policy, which has benefited from a German-led unanimity among heads of state on confronting Mr. Putin.

Further sanctions cannot be approved without a unanimous vote from the leaders of E.U. member states, and Mr. Tsipras might find sympathetic partners in countries like Hungary or Slovakia, which dislike sanctions but generally go along.

Political analysts in Athens interpreted Mr. Tsipras's early warning shots as clever political positioning, given that his government will soon open negotiations with its European creditors over the punishing bailout provisions. Showing that he could complicate European goals in Ukraine could provide him leverage in his economic negotiations, analysts said.

"He's maneuvering all the time," said Stelios Kouloglou, a political analyst who last year ran an unsuccessful campaign with Syriza for the European Parliament. …

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