TRAVEL GAZETTE – Russian President Vladimir Putin started a two-day working visit in Greece on Friday, which has been hailed by both sides as another step in enhancing bilateral collaboration.
In his first visit to Athens after a decade which was organized as part of the 2016 cross-cultural Greece-Russia Year, the Russian leader headed a large delegation of ministers and other officials and businessmen including the CEOs of gas and oil giants Gazprom and Rosneft.
“Your visit to Greece comes at a crucial time, not only for our region but for all of Europe,” Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said while welcoming Putin at the Presidential mansion in a meeting broadcast live on Greek national television ERT.
Pavlopoulos called for closer cooperation between Russia, the United States and the European Union to end the war in Syria and to tackle the refugee crisis, the “jihadist” terrorism and other common challenges.
“I think it is very important to explore all opportunities and proceed with specific steps to exploit them,” the Russian president responded.
“The strengthening of relations with Russia constitutes a strategic choice which is dictated both by the historically close, cultural and political ties, as well as the possibilities opening in front of us and the possibilities of strengthening stability in the region,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said speaking in front of the cameras at the start of talks in his office.
“There are many problems and the circumstances are difficult, but there are certainly good prospects,” the Russian leader said for his part, noting that the two sides’ focus was not limited to energy, but also included high technology, infrastructure and joint investments.
The enhancement of trade and economic ties topped the agenda of the visit, while the upgrade of political dialogue on international and regional developments, EU-Russia and NATO-Russia relations were also examined, the two leaders said during joint statements to the Press.
A series of declarations for closer Greek-Russian dialogue on regional and international issues and bilateral agreements for cooperation on energy, tourism, technology, education and science were signed at the end of talks at the Greek Prime Minister’s office.
Among them was a deal between Rosneft and Greek refiner Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) for the supply of crude and petroleum products.
“Energy is a key area of economic development for the wider region and Greece and our strategic goal is for Greece to become an energy hub,” the Greek premier noted during the press conference, underlining that energy pipelines should be considered as bridges for cooperation rather than causes for tensions.
Asked about Athens’ stance towards EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukrainian crisis, Tsipras said Greece’s role could be useful in the rapprochement of Moscow and the West because of the traditional good Russia-Greece relations.
During the joint statements to media regarding bilateral collaboration, Putin underlined among others the Russian side’s specific interest in investments in transport, such as the tenders for the privatizations of the Hellenic National Railways and Thessaloniki Port Authority.
Regarding regional and international affairs, the Russian leader expressed willingness to resolve all issues through dialogue, urging for cross border collaboration to face common threats such as terrorism.
He referred to the Syrian crisis as an example. World leaders must provide refugees with the ability to live comfortably in their countries to stop the flows to Europe, he said. “To do this, we have to fight and defeat terrorists, and to do this, we all have to fight this threat together,” Putin concluded.
The first day of the visit ended with a visit to the Byzantine and Christian Museum where currently on display is a 15th century masterpiece of Russian Christian art.
On Saturday Putin was scheduled to leave for northern Greece to pay a short visit to the monastic community of Mount Athos where Russian monks have presence over the past 1,000 years.