President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
Our talks with Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras took place in a business-like and friendly atmosphere.
We discussed in detail the key aspects of our bilateral cooperation and current international and regional issues. We gave particular attention to the question of expanding our trade and economic cooperation.
Our bilateral trade turnover came to $4.2 billion last year – a decrease of 40 percent. The anti-Russian sanctions, Russia’s response measures, and the drop in oil prices all contributed to this result. But we have agreed to make an effort to put our trade back on a growth track. We hope that the Russian-Greek Intergovernmental Commission’s renewed vigour will facilitate this work, as well as the implementation of the Joint Action Plan for 2015–2016, which we approved today. We agreed to pay more attention to investment cooperation. The figures in this area are still very modest for now.
Mr Tsipras and I discussed our cooperation in the energy sector. Russia is the biggest exporter of energy resources to the Greek market and satisfies two thirds of Greece’s natural gas demand.
Naturally, we also discussed prospects for carrying out the big infrastructure project that we have dubbed Turkish Stream. This key project would transport Russian natural gas via Turkey to the Balkans and perhaps to Italy and Central Europe. This new route would cover Europeans’ energy resource needs and enable Greece to become one of the continent’s main energy distribution centres, which would attract substantial investment in the Greek economy and create new jobs. Ultimately, of course, this is a matter for our economic organisations and the Greek Government’s sovereign decision.
Our countries have some good foundations in industrial cooperation too. Russian companies supply power machinery, transport and technical equipment to Greece. Our company Russian Railways is in talks on taking part in modernising the port of Thessaloniki.
It is tradition that we have a high level of cultural and humanitarian ties. Next year, we will hold the Year of Russia in Greece and the Year of Greece in Russia. The programme for these events will offer a rich choice of projects in education, the arts and culture. There will be events to promote the Russian and Greek languages.
The celebration of 1,000 years of Russian presence on the holy Mount Athos in 2016 will be a major event. The Russian Orthodox Church will play a big part in preparing these events. We have agreed with the Greek Government to work together to organise the celebrations of this anniversary that has great significance for both countries.
It is good to see that cooperation between our countries’ regions is growing stronger.
Tourism sector contacts are a big part of our bilateral relations. Greece is one of the most popular and in-demand holiday destinations for Russians. Last year, more than 900,000 Russian citizens visited Greece’s sights and resorts.
We discussed the international agenda in detail. We think the search for a comprehensive and just settlement to the Cyprus issue should be based on the relevant UN resolutions and the interests of all residents of Cyprus, without intervention from outside.
We exchanged views on the prospects for relations between Russia and the EU. We briefed our Greek friends in detail on the situation in southeast Ukraine and emphasised the Russian Federation’s commitment to full implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
Russia and Greece place particular importance on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, in which our countries’ peoples fought shoulder to shoulder against Nazism. In our joint statement, we stressed our deep respect for all who stood up for humanity’s peace and freedom. This is why it is so important to celebrate the anniversary of Victory in a worthy fashion.
In conclusion, I want to thank once more Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras and our Greek colleagues for this substantive, constructive and very open discussion.
Thank you for your attention.
Question: When the Greek Prime Minister last visited Russia, Moscow’s advice for resolving the Greek crisis was to go to the IMF. Today, did you discuss the possibility of Russia providing financial assistance of any kind to Greece, or do you still hold to your previous position?
One other question: could you tell us in which sectors Russia has interest in investment projects in Greece, especially as regards privatisation?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, Greece has made no requests for aid.
Second, we discussed cooperation in various economic sectors, including possibilities for carrying out big projects in the energy sector. These projects could create possibilities for us to not only provide loans for the plans we discussed today, but also to settle credit relations in the broader context of these projects’ implementation.
To make this clearer, let me explain. If we carry out a big project that will generate revenue for Greece, part of these revenues could be used to pay off the possible loans I mentioned. In other words, what we are talking about is not assistance but cooperation, including in the financial sector, in relation to specific large projects.
Regarding Russian companies’ possible participation in the privatisation of particular industrial or infrastructure facilities in Greece, let me say again that if the Greek government decides to carry out privatisations in Greece, in the Greek economy, we are ready to take part in the bids. We hope that if this does go ahead, Russian companies will take part under the same conditions as other bidders. We ask for nothing more than this.
Do we have an interest in investing in Greece? Yes, we do, above all in the infrastructure sector, ports, airports, pipeline systems, but not this sector alone. We are also ready to continue working in the energy sector, in energy generation and supply of energy resources, and in industry. There is a range of sectors that could be of mutual interest. The Prime Minister and I discussed all of this today in considerable detail.
Question: Mr President, do you not fear that if Russia abandons the restrictive measures it introduced after sanctions were imposed on Russia, this could harm and slow down the Russian agricultural sector’s development?
Vladimir Putin: Let me say a couple more words about our cooperation in the agricultural sector. We have always had very good relations with Greece. I will not go into detail now, but believe me, this really is the case in practice. We understand that Greece had no choice but to vote for the sanctions against Russia. Our response measures have hit Greece too, but this is not our fault. Agricultural products accounted for 50 percent of Greek exports to Russia. However, we had no choice but to take this road and could not make an exception for a single European Union member country.
We discussed just now possibilities for expanding our cooperation in this sector, including by creating joint ventures. I do not think that this would be to the detriment of our agricultural producers because they would be involved in the process too.
Furthermore, and most important, the best way to resolve this whole problem is to end the sanctions war in general and we would thus be able to end our response measures too.
Question: We frequently hear comments by European media as well as public statements that Greece and Russia are now deepening their relations, which we are observing today. Why does Russia want to use Greece as a Trojan horse to rectify the cooling relations with the EU and its position?
Vladimir Putin: With regard to mythology, Trojan horses and the like. You know, this question would be fair if I were on a visit to Athens right now. We never try to persuade anyone or impose our views. We are simply open to joint constructive work aimed at achieving positive results in the interests of our people and our economies.
If the Greek Government, headed by Mr Tsipras, feels it is possible to restore and broaden relations with the Russian Federation, we will fully welcome this and, of course, are ready to take reciprocal steps in the areas we discussed today, both in international relations and humanitarian cooperation, especially since this cooperation was never interrupted. Naturally, we will work to broaden our economic ties.
I think that every nation has the right to make decisions in accordance with its national interests. I cannot agree with those observers and political analysts who say that it is considered normal when leaders from other nations visit Russia, whereas a visit by the Prime Minister of Greece is, for some reason, seen as an absolutely extraordinary event. I simply cannot make sense of this, why that is. Or perhaps they’re suggesting that Greece is so debt-ridden and somehow tied hand and foot politically as well, and its sovereignty is so limited that it cannot conduct independent foreign policy. I do not believe this and all the actions by the Greek Prime Minister show that the reverse is true.
I want to assure you that we will not use anything within the European Union in search for a piecemeal solution to the problem of improving relations with the European Union as a whole. We are in favour of working with the whole of united Europe, working openly, with a trust-based approach within the framework of our long-term strategies.
As you may know I’ve spoken of the need to create a common economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Recently, the President of France even corrected me: “Don’t forget that this idea initially belonged to Charles de Gaulle. Only he talked about the common space spanning from Lisbon to the Urals. You just broadened this idea a little bit.” I did not argue; that is entirely true.
In any case, this long-term strategic approach to our cooperation has always underpinned our joint plans. I was once told this by former Chancellor of Germany, Mr Helmut Kohl, who was a very fervent proponent of developing Russian-German relations.
Overall, there is nothing new here, and I do not see anything unusual about what the current Prime Minister of Greece is doing in this area. We will only support all of these efforts.
Incidentally, I can add the following. Remember the crisis in Cyprus? Everyone was asking us to help Cyprus. And the parties interested in developing cooperation with Greece are not just Greece and Russia but all the creditor nations, including all the European nations. After all, if the Greek economy is strengthened by developing relations with Russia, the possibility of a timely repayment of the debt and settlement of debt obligations to creditors, the IMF and the EU will become more feasible for Greece. Everyone is interested in normalising the Greek economic situation. For me, it is actually strange to hear that somebody expresses doubts on this matter. This is dictated exclusively by the current opportunistic political notions that have nothing to do with the interests of the Greek or Russian people, or any European nations.
Question: You mentioned energy dialogue. Do I understand correctly that you are talking about Greece’s participation in the Turkish Stream and the issue has already been decided? Did you discuss the issue of creating an energy hub on the border between Greece and Turkey during the talks? Please tell us about it in more detail. Under what conditions will Greece participate in this project? What volumes could this entail, and how will this benefit both sides?
Vladimir Putin: We naturally discussed it, quite extensively. But it’s difficult to say anything concrete right now, because it requires detailed, professional preparation at the level of the economic entities involved – at the level of Gazprom and corresponding ministries and departments of the Russian Federation and their partners in Greece.
You know the position of the Balkan nations. I think it was stated quite clearly yesterday. But whether or not Greece will participate in implementing this project will depend entirely on the Greek Government’s analysis of all the technical and economic issues.
In my view, and I have always stated this publicly, this would raise Greece’s geopolitical status; it would become a major transit nation for all of southern Europe, and not only for the south but perhaps even Central Europe as well. It will receive good money for transit. We are talking about hundreds of millions of euros annually, just for transit, just like that. In addition, this would mean the creation of new jobs and proceeds at all levels of the nation’s tax systems. This is a serious, large-scale, multi-billion euro project. We talked about ways ensure its financing. But, of course, our Greek partners and friends must study all the details with their Russian partners. Only then can we talk about anything concrete.