OPINION

PM heading to Russia: Transport, natural gas, East Med on the agenda

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Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ first trip to Russia on Wednesday will not, as many believe, be a mere PR exercise, government sources in Athens say.

The same sources believe that concrete results could be achieved, especially on so-called low-level foreign policy issues. They reflect Athens’ thinking that the upcoming visit adds to the government’s multidimensional foreign policy, as Russia is obviously one of the main global players, not least as a permanent UN Security Council member.

A significant part of the talks will inevitably concern the energy crisis. Russia is one of Greece’s main suppliers, as the latter imports 45.85% of its natural gas and 9.5% of crude oil from Russia.

Athens would like to sign a bilateral agreement that will have an immediate, beneficial impact on the price of natural gas. It remains to be seen whether Moscow responds positively and what it will demand in exchange.

It is already known, and was confirmed in the bilateral interministerial meeting in Moscow on November 29-30, that Russia is interested in Greece’s transport sector, such as trains and ports. Kathimerini understands that Russia is interested in train infrastructure projects. Deputy Transport Minister Michalis Papadopoulos is accompanying Mitsotakis on his trip.

Another issue of interest to Greece is strengthening cooperation in tourism. Increasing flights to and from Greece is a priority and Russia seems to be open to the idea. The issue has already been discussed in a recent teleconference of an interministerial commission headed by Alternate Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis.

Other issues include cooperation with Moscow Technical University and cultural exchanges; 2021 is the Year of Russia in Greece, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek War of Independence. Greece is also expected to ask for the return of the archives of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki. It is further expected that, following the leadership meeting, there will be conferences between Greek and Russian regions on cooperation opportunities.

According to government sources, besides the goal of low-level policy agreements, a crucial goal of the visit is to warm up bilateral relations, despite differences in important policies, as there have been ties between the two cultures for more than a millennium.

Athens responds to Moscow’s annoyance over the expanded footprint of the US by saying that Greek-US military agreements do not target Russia.

The agenda is certain to include the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, on which the Russians are fully briefed, and Turkish aggression. A positive for Greece is that Russia has constantly upheld the international law of the sea and Greece’s right to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles.