Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed Friday that it was time the deep and historic ties binding the two countries were manifested in further economic cooperation.
“We must transform these good relations and the emotional rapport between the two nations into tangible economic results,” the Russian leader said on the first day of a two-day official visit to Greece aimed at securing bilateral agreements in trade, investment and joint energy and transport projects.
Russia has shown interest in buying Greek railway company Trainose and the port of Thessaloniki, the country’s second largest.
Despite Russia being a major trading partner of Greece, the trade sanctions imposed by the European Union in response to the Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support of separatists in Ukraine are biting hard on both economies.
“These are difficult times for everyone – in terms of the economy and international security,” Putin said.
“We must examine these problems and look for a solution. It is not a coincidence that an opportunity for this has arisen in Greece – a country with which we have deep and historic ties.”
Putin expressed similar sentiments when he met with his Greek counterpart Prokopis Pavlopoulos, insisting that now is the time to discuss the potential opportunities that come with closer ties and “to take specific steps” – making a point of referring to the increased flow of Russian tourists to Greece.
This visit, Putin’s first to an EU country in six months, is taking place under tight security. Roughly 2,500 police officers were tasked Friday with providing security, while the city center came to standstill as traffic was blocked.
The Russian president is accompanied by his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and a delegation of senior executives from state oil and gas companies – an indication of the importance the Russians are attaching to the visit, one month before the EU decides on whether to extend sanctions against Russia after July.
Tsipras, who is also looking to Russia in Greece’s bid to lure much needed foreign investment, said the strengthening of Greek-Russian relations was “a strategic choice” and that Putin’s visit coincides with a period during which “Greece has turned a page and looks to the future with optimism.”
Even though it has repeatedly expressed its reservations, Greece has begrudgingly complied with EU trade sanctions imposed on Moscow, but the government is looking for loopholes that will allow the export of Greek agricultural products to Russia that are not precisely defined in the retaliatory trade embargo that Moscow imposed on products from the EU.
Putin will visit the monastic community of Mount Athos in northern Greece on Saturday to attend celebrations marking the 1,000-year presence of Russian monks at the sacred site. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow will also be attending.