During a state visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has criticised the West’s “vicious circle of militarization, of Cold War rhetoric and of sanctions”.
“We have repeatedly said that the vicious circle of militarisation, of Cold War rhetoric and of sanctions is not productive. The solution is dialogue,” Tsipras said in a press conference following talks with Putin on Saturday.
“Everyone recognises that there cannot exist a future for the European continent with the European Union and Russia at loggerheads,” he added.
Greece, Tsipras said, is “striving to perform within the EU and NATO as a positive bridge of friendship and cooperation between Europe and Russia. We are trying to explain to our partners how crucial it is for the European Union to have a multilateral energy policy”.
Tsipras’ backing for Moscow came weeks ahead of the EU meet that is expected to renew the sanctions against Russia. The sanctions were imposed following Crimea, an erstwhile part of Ukraine, voting to join Russia in 2014.
Following talks in Athens, the two sides inked several cooperation agreements including tourism, agriculture, standardisation, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, investment and trade, said a Kremlin statement.
“An Agreement on the Main Parameters of Oil and Petroleum Products Supply and a Memorandum of Understanding Between the Ural Federal University and the University of Piraeus regarding BRICS projects were signed as well,” it added.
The two governments also signed a “modernisation partnership”, and a memorandum of understanding on inter-regional cooperation between the Russian Economic Development Ministry and the Greek Foreign Ministry.
Tsipras said Greece’s “strategic choice is to strengthen ties with Russia” because “we have opportunities opening up in the future to build up our economic partnership, as well as to improve stability in the world and the region”.
The Greek Syriza government’s warm welcome to Putin, at a time when tensions between the US and Russia continue unabated, is a confidence-booster for Moscow.
Tsipras, in talks with Putin in Athens, stressed on “the brotherly and friendly feelings that the Greek people have for the Russian people”.
Greece and Russia are both largely Orthodox Christian countries and have close religious ties.
Putin, in turn, said this goodwill must translate “into economic growth and cooperation – not only in the energy sector, but also high-technology industries and infrastructure. These, of course, should be mutual investments”.
The trade turnover between Russia and Greece dropped by 34 per cent to $2.75 billion in 2015 and by another 16% in the first quarter of this year, official data says.
“Both the EU sanctions against Russian enterprises and our counter-measures have had an impact, as well as the price drop on energy resources and fluctuations in currency exchange rates,” Putin said at a joint press conference with Tsipras.
Both leaders stressed on boosting energy ties. Oil and natural gas traditionally account for 85 per cent of Russian exports to Greece.
“We cover 60 percent of Greece’s needs in gas and more than 15 percent in oil. A memorandum signed by the Russian Energy Agency and the Greek Centre for Renewable Energy Sources and Saving will facilitate further development of bilateral cooperation in energy efficiency,” Putin said.
On Saturday, Putin attended a prayer service at Mount Athos, home to 20 monasteries and one of the holiest sites for Orthodox Christians. Joined by Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, the president took part in celebrating 1000 years of Russian monastic presence on Athos.