In Russia, with love

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis were in virtually total agreement yesterday during talks in Moscow prior to signing several bilateral deals on economic cooperation and fighting global terrorism. Despite the freezing temperatures in the Russian capital, the climate appeared warm inside the Kremlin, where the two leaders met. Putin welcomed Karamanlis by telling him that Greece was Russia’s «closest colleague and partner» in Europe. The premier returned the compliment. «We have similar or identical opinions on many matters. This allows us to look upon the future with optimism,» said Karamanlis. The Russian president also seemed pleased with the level of cooperation he was getting from the Karamanlis government. «Our countries’ relations were always good, but since you were elected prime minister and New Democracy came to power, our relations have been improving. Some matters which we could not promote in the last few years are now starting to gather momentum,” said Putin. The two leaders signed three agreements during their meeting. First, they agreed on a joint action plan covering various areas including the economy, energy and defense during 2005-2006. Karamanlis attached great importance to strengthening economic links between the two countries. «Greece has to get itself into action and take advantage of the opportunities for economic cooperation with Russia,» he said after the meeting. Under the agreement, Russia, which currently supplies some 80 percent of Greece’s natural gas, will increase gas shipments to Greece further. Karamanlis added that ministers from Greece, Russia and Bulgaria must soon sign an intergovernmental memorandum on the much-delayed Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline project. The two leaders also agreed to cooperate on the fight against international terrorism, including via closer cooperation between the Greek and Russian security services. It was also agreed that officials from the two countries should meet at least once a year at various levels up to and including that of foreign minister. The third agreement signed was a commitment to enhance relations and cooperation between Russia and Greece. On the question of Cyprus, Putin said that a solution was needed based on the reunification plan proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – a position which Karamanlis lauded.