Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hinted that Moscow could lift its embargo on food imports from Greece, which has been hurt by the ban and is embroiled in crucial talks with its European creditors.
Putin made his televised remarks at a meeting with visiting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in the Kremlin. Greece, dependent on international bailouts worth 240 billion euros ($260 billion) since 2010, will run out of funds within weeks unless it reaches a deal with its creditors for a new installment.
Tsipras’ visit has been regarded as either an attempt to use his relationship with Russia as a potential bargaining chip or simply an effort to enhance ties with a traditional ally.
In retaliation against Western sanctions, Russia last year banned selected food imports including vegetables and cheese from the European Union, which has hit Greek imports particular hard.
Putin told a beaming Tsipras at the start of their talks that his visit is “very timely” and it gives them a chance “to analyze what we could both do” to restore bilateral trade between Russia and Greece, which dropped 40 percent on the ban.
Greek exports to Russia were 357 million euros last year, down 12 percent from a year earlier.
Putin also dwelled on the significance of Tsipras’ visit ahead of the Orthodox Easter, saying that, above all, Russia and Greece have “common spiritual roots” as predominantly Orthodox Christian nations.
Putin’s words did not catch Kremlin officials off guard. Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev told Russian news agencies that the government had drafted proposals “related to the embargo” that will be discussed at his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday.
A deal could potentially restore millions in profits that Greek farmers used to make on the Russian markets.
Tsipras’ government, a coalition of the radical left and nationalist right, was elected in January on promises to repeal the austerity measures imposed as a condition of the bailout.
Tsipras, who will be meeting a flurry of top Russian officials on Wednesday and Thursday, has been cultivating the impression that Athens might see Moscow as a potential means of pressure in its current negotiations. [AP]