Russian bonds reinforced

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday threw his weight firmly behind Russian President Vladimir Putin during an exceptionally cordial meeting in Moscow where the two leaders agreed to boost bilateral ties, particularly in the crucial energy sector. Karamanlis heaped praise on Putin whom he referred to as «a friend» and congratulated him three times for his landslide victory in parliamentary elections in Russia earlier this month. Karamanlis appeared to plant Greece firmly in Moscow’s camp, describing Russia as a «strategic partner.» «The historic ties between our countries are strengthening, particularly in the sphere of energy,» Karamanlis said. His comments followed the signature of a protocol – by Greek, Russian and Bulgarian officials – for the creation of a company to oversee the construction of the much-awaited Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline. Construction is to begin in the summer. Putin and Karamanlis also discussed Greece’s involvement in another project: the planned South Stream natural gas pipeline which would bring Russian gas across the Black Sea to Bulgaria and other European countries. The two men are also due to discuss the planned purchase by Greece of more than 400 Russian tanks. Asked to comment on the outlook for defense procurement, Karamanlis was guarded: «We cannot predict how this will develop,» he said. It was unclear whether the thorny issue of Kosovo was discussed in detail (both Russia and Greece oppose plans for its independence from Serbia) but no public statements were made. On other issues though, Karamanlis and Putin abandoned the constraints of protocol and investigated ways to boost their «strategic partnership.» Questioned by a Russian journalist about the possible reactions of «Brussels bureaucrats» to this rapprochement, Karamanlis said, «Greece is a European country and works in the context of European policies… but bilateral ties are developed on the basis of national interests.» Putin appeared to challenge EU-US alignments: «The system of international relations is undergoing a period of transformation… the question is what world order will be established over the next few decades.»