While it's unclear if he said them 'on the record', a recently-published book by two Le Monde journalists (aptly titled Presidents Should Not Talk About Such Things) includes some controversial comments allegedly made by French president François Hollande.
Hollande's comments on the ineptitude of the French judiciary have upset the French establishment, while his comments about French footballers not being 'sufficiently French' are sure to upset the public (or make them nod their head in agreement).
Sandwiched between derogatory comments about 'Muslims taking over the country' that betray his 'leftist' government's real position on immigration, there are a couple of gems that shed light on the Greek bailout crisis, which reached boiling point in the summer of 2015.
Telling these journalists about a phone conservation he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the peak of the crisis, before the rebellious referendum and therefore before the Syriza government surrendered to the European lenders, Hollande said Putin told him:
"I want to give you this information. Greece asked us to print Drachmas because they have no longer a printer for this. I want to tell you that this is something [NB - i.e., Grexit] that we do not want."This is interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the very opposite claim has been circulating until now - that Putin offered to help the Greeks print drachmas. Secondly, it goes against the received wisdom that Putin was either plotting to bring about Grexit, or seeking to benefit from it.
According to this new book, Hollande then wondered why Putin passed him this information, before suggesting that:
"Putin probably didn't want to be considered responsible for Grexit, and also to convey that he thought Grexit was a danger that should to be avoided."Yes indeed, monsieur le président, Putin avoided walking into a trap.
A little later in the book, Hollande reveals the position of the IMF's Christine Lagarde:
"Lagarde is in favor of Grexit. She told me so with arguments that have some basis: she believes that with such debt Greece cannot be rescued and it is better off outside the eurozone. Lagarde is polite but she is under pressure by the US administration and the IMF."Our suspicion at the time was that the US was dead set against Greece leaving the eurozone because that may lead to the country leaving the EU. With members of the Syriza government making no secret of their regular contact with Russian counterparts in the run-up to the Greek bailout referendum, Washington saw the risk that Greece could 'fall into the Kremlin's orbit'. With the 'Turkish Stream' gas pipeline in the works, Washington didn't want an independent Greece facilitating Russia's ability to meet Europe's energy needs.
The German government floated Grexit many months before the Greek bailout referendum. The Greek government didn't want to take the country out of the euro, but appeared resigned to it on the eve of the referendum, when Varoufakis and others in his cabinet were making rush preparations for setting up a return to the drachma.
In the end, it didn't happen, and with Hollande's comment above in mind, it seems the reason it didn't happen was because the US wouldn't let it happen. So Merkel was forced to saddle Greece with a harsh austerity-for-bailout deal, for which she was (deservedly) criticized. But was there more than just German self-interest at work here? Merkel, it seems, in delaying a real solution to a structural eurozone debt problem that won't go away with intermittent bailouts, settled on the best solution for Washington, not Europe.
Assuming that what Hollande is alleged to have said is accurate, then Putin's conscience is clear: he sought no political advantage from the crisis other than to remain on good terms with Europe's largest countries - Germany and France - and that despite their anti-Russian sanctions and support for the illegitimate regime in Kiev.
I guess that if the EU makes it through this period of US imperial collapse, its leaders can thank Putin later.