Russia and Greece yesterday affirmed their desire to promote joint business in the Balkans, particularly in the energy sector, with the signing of a protocol. There is significant potential for developing new initiatives in the energy sector through the cooperation of Greece and Russia in the broader Balkan region, said Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos after two hours of talks with visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko. My government is satisfied with the pace and level at which our bilateral cooperation has developed. We see an increase in the volume of trade between our two countries, both in last year’s results and the results to date this year, said Matvienko, a former ambassador to Athens, who headed the Russian delegation in the fourth session of the Joint Ministerial Committee. She said Russia had made renewed assurances regarding the supply of agreed quantities of Russian natural gas to Greece, and that her government is keen to participate in the construction of energy units and the expansion of existing networks in Greece and other neighboring countries. Russia also hopes to see faster progress toward the construction of the pipeline intended to supply oil from the Bulgarian port of Burgas to Alexandroupolis on the northern Aegean coast, which has been delayed largely due to Bulgarian objections, Matvienko said. An agreement was reached to set up a working group that will look into the issue of Russian purchases of Greek products in exchange for natural gas, and to examine the possibilities for the provision of credit facilities from Greece to different regions of the Russian Federation. The two sides are to prepare separate agreements for cooperation in energy, merchant shipping, air transport and the setting up of cultural centers, which should be ready for signing during the upcoming visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Athens, scheduled for December 6-8. Unemployment is projected to decline from an expected 11.2 percent for 2001, to 10.9 percent in 2002 and 10.4 percent in 2003.