Putin dig at investment in Greece irks Athens

Government officials reacted with irritation on Friday to comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin criticizing Russian entrepreneurs for investing in Greece, which he described as “a problematic country.”

“Of course we are annoyed,” the Athens Macedonian News Agency quoted a senior government official as saying. “That’s the last thing we need.”

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou stressed that Greece “is a safe country for investments.” “There is investment interest in Greece and as we know investments can’t be manipulated.”

The reaction followed comments by Putin during a meeting with regional officials in Rostov, the birthplace of Greek-Russian entrepreneur Ivan Savvidis, who bought an 82 percent stake in the SEKAP tobacco firm in Xanthi last February, assumed the management of Thessaloniki’s Makedonia Pallas Hotel, and last summer bought Greek football team PAOK.

Putin’s comments were seen as a swipe at Savvidis and other Russian entrepreneurs investing abroad.

“Greece is a good country, spiritually close to us, but we are well aware of its economic problems,” Putin said. “If an investor chooses such a country, which is obviously problematic, for his investments and favors it, for instance, over the region of Rostov, this raises a question: Why? And what is lacking here?”

In June Gazprom failed to make the only expected bid for Greece’s gas company DEPA despite several meetings between the Russian giant’s chief executive Alexey Miller which had led Greek authorities to believe the deal was in the bag. Gazprom said it was worried about DEPA’s finances but European Union competition issues are believed to have been a concern.