Putin takes third shot at Mount Athos trip

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit the monastic community of Mount Athos in northern Greece later this week, the first visit by a Russian leader to the area. Putin is scheduled to arrive in Thessaloniki on Thursday, where he will meet with Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and drive to Mount Athos the following day. Sources say that tens of Russian security forces have already reached the area and are preparing for the visit. It is Putin’s third attempt at reaching Mount Athos. In December 2001, he called off his trip because of poor weather conditions, while a planned visit in September last year was canceled due to the terrorist attack in Beslan which killed 331 people. Political analysts believe that the trip, to be covered by television crews, will help boost Putin’s popularity in Orthodox Russia, particularly among the religious low-income groups. Mount Athos is a male only religious community that consists of 17 Greek monasteries, one Russian, one Bulgarian and one Serbian.