In the long night between March 15-16, Cyprus' finance minister accepted a bailout deal for his heavily indebted country that dragged the euro zone back into crisis mode, fast.
The agreement, which would punish bank depositors rather than taxpayers, was unprecedented and sent shockwaves through financial markets. Savers felt betrayed—even deposits under 20,000 euros were subject to the levy under the initial agreement—and the deal was swiftly rejected by parliament.
With the country's debt piling up and default looming, Finance Minister Michael Sarris turned to Russia for help. Russia has a vested interest in helping the country. Many Russian businesses that have registered in the country have profited from Cyprus' lenient tax laws.
The European Central Bank has added to pressure by saying it will not extend emergency liquidity funding to Cypriot banks beyond Monday.
The clock is ticking, and the prospect of the country exiting the euro zone, or defaulting on its debt, is looming ever larger. Click ahead to see how the crisis unfolded.
Posted 21 March 2013
Cypriot protesters wave banners picturing German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a Nazi during a demonstration against an EU bailout deal outside the parliament in the capital, Nicosia, on March 19. The speaker of the Cypriot parliament urged MPs to say "no to blackmail" in a vote on a euro zone bailout aimed at saving the Mediterranean island from bankruptcy.
After just his third meeting in the job as head of the Euro Group, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem faced accusations of failing to anticipate the wrath that a confiscatory levy on small savers would spark, risking a rejection by the Cypriot parliament that would plunge the euro zone back into crisis.
Cypriot members of parliament vote on the bailout agreement in Nicosia on March 19. They overwhelmingly rejected a tax on bank deposits demanded by international lenders as a condition for a bailout deal, with a vote of 36 against, 19 abstentions and none in favor.
After offering to resign, Sarris arrived in Moscow for talks with Russian officials on the evening of March 19, leading to speculation that Russia could come to Cyprus's financial aid. Cyprus and Russia resumed talks March 21to strike a deal that could include cooperation on banking and natural gas reserves.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attacked the EU's handling of the Cyprus debt crisis, comparing the levy on bank deposits to measures that hurt savers under the Soviet Union. Medvedev (right) meets with EU commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on March 21.
The head of Cyprus' Orthodox church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, said he would put the church's assets at the country's disposal to help pull it out of the crisis, after lawmakers rejected the plan to seize up to 10 percent of people's bank deposits.
The European Central Bank set a March 25 deadline to agree on a bailout plan, threatening to cut off funding to the islands' cash-strapped banks if a program is not agreed by then with the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
Lines formed outside several Laiki Bank ATMs on March 21. It's one of the weakest banks in Cyprus.
Political leaders in Cyprus agreed that their country should form a solidarity investment fund to raise the extra capital needed to agree on a bailout with the euro zone and the IMF to avert a collapse of its banking system.
If Cyprus cannot agree on a deal, its biggest banks could be wiped out of uninsured deposits, and the country could be forced to leave the euro zone, a senior European Union official said.
Becoming a member of the euro zone is supposed to be irreversible, but many are now asking what will happen if Cyprus cannot meet the terms of the Troika—the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank—and is forced out of the single currency. Will contagion spread in southern Europe?