NEWS

Huge security for Putin’s Mt Athos trip

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Mount Athos this weekend has prompted a huge security operation involving hundreds of people. The Russian leader will arrive at the semi-autonomous monastic republic on the Halkidiki peninsula aboard a destroyer on Saturday morning. His vessel will be flanked by two Russian submarines. Fears of a possible attack by Chechen rebels at one of Orthodox Christianity’s holiest sites have also led to 40 of Putin’s personal bodyguards already arriving to secure the area and set up two-and-a-half tons of telecommunications equipment. Several hundred Greek policemen will help with the security operation. Putin is expected to stay until Sunday, visiting the monasteries of Megisti Lavra, Iviron and the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon. Ukrainian monks currently outnumber Putin’s countrymen at the monastery and it is thought he will ask Athos’s Holy Assembly to induct more Russian monks. According to sources, Putin plans to announce that Russia will pay for the reconstruction of an abandoned, 900-room hostel at the monastery. He will also present two bells to the church at Karyes, the capital of the all-male Orthodox republic. The Russian president’s visit will be shown live on television in his homeland, a first for Mount Athos. The Russian Consulate in Thessaloniki, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) away, is organizing tours to Mount Athos on Saturday for Russian immigrants to ensure President Putin receives a warm welcome.