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Greece hopes to rekindle Russia ties with Putin visit


Russian President Vladimir Putin . / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV

Russian President Vladimir Putin . / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV

Crisis-hit Greece hopes to re-energize relations with Moscow at a two-day visit by Russian leader Vladimir Putin that could bring badly-needed energy and trade breakthroughs, the government daily said Friday.

“Putin visit reheats Greek-Russia relations,” Avgi daily said, adding that the Russian leader is accompanied to Athens by six ministers.

Putin, who was last in Greece in 2007, is expected to land in Athens around 1330 GMT and hold separate meetings with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

The PM’s advisor on Russian issues, Dimitris Velanis, told Avgi that Russia factored heavily in the government’s efforts to pull the country out of recession.

“The Greek government is doing everything to launch growth and we believe growth will include Russia,” Velanis said.

The Kremlin on Thursday said trade and economy will top the agenda of the visit and that a “number of bilateral agreements” would be signed.

Avgi on Friday said this would include a deal between Russian oil giant Rosneft and Greek refiner Hellenic Petroleum.

The setup of Greek-Russian agricultural companies is also expected next month, Avgi said.

Greek agricultural exports to Russia were badly hurt by an ongoing EU embargo.

In an article in Kathimerini daily on Thursday, Putin said Russia remains interested in tenders involving Greek rail assets and the port of Thessaloniki.

— Seeking Russian help in crisis —

Greece has repeatedly sought the help of Russia, a fellow Orthodox country, as it descended into economic crisis over the past six years.

Tsipras is believed to have requested Russian financial assistance last year as the country teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, although Russian officials have publicly denied any approach.

Russian companies have also been repeatedly linked to Greek energy and transport privatisation deals that were never completed.

A joint Greek-Russian ministerial committee set up as the result of prior talks had not met in 3.5 years, Avgi said.

Tsipras visited Moscow for talks with Putin twice last year, in April and June, ahead of his re-election in September.

Pavlopoulos also visited Russia in January.

Putin’s trip to Greece is also his first visit to the EU this year. He had attended the global climate talks in Paris at the end of 2015.

In the Kathimerini article, Putin said the EU would not be a global player without his country’s help.

“A rightful position of the Old Continent in the new international realities can only be secured by combining capacities of all European countries, including Russia,” Putin said.

EU-Russia relations are at a low ebb over the conflict in Ukraine that broke out in 2014, with European sanctions still in force against Moscow.

The sanctions on Russia’s banking, defence and energy sectors expire in July. Extending them will require a unanimous vote, and EU leaders are expected to discuss the issue next month.

Whilst in Athens, Putin and Tsipras will also unveil the famous icon by Andrei Rublev, the Ascension, which is on loan from the Tretyakov Gallery to the Byzantine and Christian Museum.

On Saturday, the Russian leader will join celebrations for the 1,000th anniversary of the Russian presence at the ancient monastic community of Mount Athos in northern Greece, one of Orthodox Christianity’s holiest sites.

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