MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin said the leader of Greece did not ask for financial aid during an official visit, easing speculation that Athens might use its relations with Moscow to gain advantage in bailout talks with European creditors.
Greece is facing a deadline in talks with its European creditors, which want it to agree to a list of reforms before they provide it with more rescue loans. Greece will run out of funds within weeks without more help.
There was speculation that Alexis Tsipras could try to improve relations with Russia to gain bargaining power in those talks. The European Union and the US have hit Russia with sanctions over its role in the Ukrainian conflict and diplomats were worried that Greece might weaken their common stance against Moscow.
Asked at a news conference on Wednesday whether Tsipras sought financial aid during their talks, Putin said: “The Greek party has not asked us for any aid.”
The Greek prime minister told reporters following the talks at the Kremlin that “Greece is a sovereign nation with an irrevocable right to conduct a multi-facet foreign policy.”
Tsipras also indicated that his trip should not be interpreted as an affront to the West.
“We respect our obligations in all international organizations,” Tsipras said, adding that it doesn’t mean that his country should not pursue a foreign policy “to benefit all Greeks.”
Putin also hinted that Moscow could lift its embargo on food imports from Greece. 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.
Greek exports to Russia were 357 million euros last year, down 12 percent from a year earlier. Tsipras on Wednesday described the effect from Russia’s food embargo as a “sizeable wound” to his country’s economy.
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’s 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. Greece has been dependent on international bailouts worth 240 billion euros ($260 billion) since 2010.
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.
[The Associated Press]