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Cyprus seeks Russia's help after deposit tax fails

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Cypriot Finance Minister Michalis Sarris will seek Russian assistance on Wednesday after his island's parliament rejected the terms of an EU-IMF bailout that slapped an unprecedented levy on bank accounts.

Sarris will meet his Russian counterpart Anton Siluanov in the hope of easing the terms and winning an extension of a 2.5-billion-euro loan that Moscow afforded Nicosia in 2011.

The visit comes the day after furious Cypriot lawmakers flatly rejected a highly unpopular measure that would have slapped a one-time fee of up to 9.9 percent on bank deposits as a condition for an EU-led 10-billion-euro ($13-billion) loan.

Cyprus's banks were left heavily exposed to the Greek debt crisis and their failure would leave the country on the verge of bankruptcy and in danger of going into default.

That in turn would put immense pressure on the euro and once again place the unity of the European Union in doubt.

Cyprus is now scrambling for a Plan B that includes the option of going to Russia with cap in hand.

Russians -- many of them wealthy tycoons seeking to avoid taxes back home -- hold between a third and half of all Cypriot deposits and have $31 billion in private and corporate cash buried in the island's teetering banks.

The Kremlin said that President Vladimir Putin received a telephone call late Tuesday from his Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades in which the two leaders discussed what Russia could do to help.

Putin had Monday lashed out at the proposed levy as "unfair, unprofessional and dangerous" -- a position highlighting the links between the Kremlin and the Russian oligarchs.

"The leaders analysed the economic situation in Cyprus in the context of the Eurogroup's proposal on ways of getting out of the crisis," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax.

"Putin once again expressed his concern in connection with the adoption of any measures capable of harming the interests of Russian individuals and companies," said the spokesman.

Local media have speculated that one proposal on the table in Moscow was for the Russian natural gas giant Gazprom to come in and infuse Cypriot's banks with cash in exchange for interest in the island's offshore energy fields.

Gazprom has refused to confirm that this offer -- also reported by Cypriot media -- is under discussion.

Russian officials have so far ruled out the possibility of extending Cyprus credits beyond the 2011 loan.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130320/cyprus-seeks-russias-help-after-deposit-tax-fails