Greece opposes European Union sanctions imposed against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said, denouncing the approach as “senseless” and calling for a negotiated solution.
Greece has suffered from a Russian food import ban that President Vladimir Putin imposed in response to the sanctions, Tsipras said in an interview with state-run Russian news service Tass published on Tuesday. After his government was sworn in two months ago, Tsipras said that he told EU leaders that they couldn’t assume he would support the penalties.
“We disagree with sanctions,” Tsipras told Tass. “I see it as a road to nowhere.”
Greece, Europe’s most-indebted state, is locked in negotiations with euro-area countries and the International Monetary Fund over the terms of its 240 billion-euro ($258 billion) rescue. The standoff, which has left Greece dependent upon European Central Bank loans, risks leading to a default within weeks and the nation’s potential exit from the euro area.
After a Syriza-led government assumed power in Greece in late January, Tsipras said he called EU President Donald Tusk and Federica Mogherini, the 28-nation bloc’s foreign-policy chief, to tell them that they had to seek the new cabinet’s position before making decisions.
“The new European security architecture must include Russia,” Tsipras said. “Greece, as an EU member state, can be a link, a bridge between the West and Russia.”
The need for a unanimous EU vote to renew the trade restrictions gives skeptics like Greece leverage over the UK, Poland and the Baltic states, the leading advocates for maintaining the pressure on Russia. At a March meeting in Brussels, EU leaders made a pledge to extend sanctions until the end of the year while leaving open the possibility that the trade and investment curbs might not be renewed when they expire in July.
Postponing the final decision gave Putin time to cultivate growing opposition to sanctions among the leaders of some countries in central and southern Europe.
Putin, whose relations with EU leaders have worsened to a post-Cold War low because of the conflict in Ukraine, in February invited Tsipras to Russia. The Greek premier plans to visit Moscow on April 8 and will return for World War II victory celebrations in early May.
“Spring” has replaced “winter” in Greek-Russian relations, Tsipras told Tass.
Large Russian companies will take part in a tender to explore for offshore oil and natural gas, Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis told reporters on Tuesday, adding that his country supports Russia’s plan for a new pipeline through Turkey and would welcome its extension to Greek territory. The government in Athens is hopeful that Russia will lift its ban on Greek agricultural products, according to Lafazanis.
Tsipras said he sees energy and tourism as the main areas for cooperation with Russia. He didn’t address his country’s bailout options, according to quotes made available by Tass. [Bloomberg]