Ahead of my visit to Athens, I would like to share with the readers of Kathimerini, one of the most popular and respected Greek newspapers, some ideas regarding the further development of the partnership between Greece and Russia, as well as about the situation on the European continent in general.
We value the centuries-old traditions of friendship between our peoples. Our cooperation rests on a rock-solid base of common civilizational values, the Orthodox culture and a genuine mutual affection. A vivid example of how closely our people’s lives are intertwined is the story of Ioannis Kapodistrias, who was a Russian minister of foreign affairs in the 19th century and later became a head of the Greek state.
The celebrations of the Millennium of Russian Monasticism on the Holy Mount Athos will be a landmark event this year. Throughout completely different periods of history, their moral courage, faith and patriotism helped our peoples to overcome severe ordeals and preserve their identity.
Hundreds of thousands of Russian tourists visit your country every year. They relax on the beautiful beaches, get acquainted with the rich heritage of the ancient Hellas and its legendary architectural monuments. Tourism makes a significant contribution to the economic development of Greece, as well as to broader direct people-to-people contacts and greater trust and friendship between our citizens.
I know that Greece remembers that its achievement of independence was due in no small measure to Russia's efforts. Russia's support for the Greek national liberation struggle largely determined the further development of bilateral relations.
These days, Greece is Russia's important partner in Europe. We are conducting a dynamic political dialogue, including at the top level. During a meeting with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos in January, we announced the opening of the cross years of Greece and Russia. The programs cover activities in the scientific, educational, and humanitarian spheres, as well as tourism. I am confident that they will help our peoples to get even more closely acquainted with each other's history, traditions and customs.
Last year, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made two visits to our country. We had informative and very useful discussions. Contacts between ministries and agencies, parliaments and civil society organizations are growing stronger.
Unfortunately, the decline in relations between Russia and the European Union stands in the way of a further strengthening of our cooperation, with an adverse effect on the dynamics of bilateral trade that fell by a third to $2.75 billion as compared to last year. Particularly affected were Greek agricultural producers.
Russia proceeds from the need to establish dialogue with the European Union in the spirit of equality and genuine partnership on a variety of issues ranging from visa liberalization to the formation of an energy alliance. However, we do not yet see our European colleagues' willingness to follow such a mutually beneficial and promising path.
Nevertheless, we believe that our relations with the EU do not face any problems that we cannot solve. To get back to a multifaceted partnership, the deficient approach of one-sided relationships should be abandoned. There should be true respect for each other’s opinions and interests.
Today, Russia and the European Union have come to a crossroads, where we need to answer the following question: how do we see the future of our relations and which way are we going to head? I am convinced that we should draw appropriate conclusions from the events in Ukraine and proceed to establishing, in the vast space stretching between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, a zone of economic and humanitarian cooperation based on the architecture of equal and indivisible security. Harmonizing European and Eurasian integration processes would be an important step in this direction.
This work is all the more relevant, insofar as today Europe is facing increased competition from other power centers of the contemporary world. For instance, at the recent ASEAN‑Russia Commemorative Summit in Sochi we had meaningful discussions with our partners on pressing international issues, the prospects for integration projects and enhanced cooperation in the Asia‑Pacific region. Apparently, a rightful position of the Old Continent in the new international realities can only be secured by combining capacities of all the European countries, including Russia.
Multidimensional contacts between Greece and Russia are an important element of this system. I would like to single out the energy sector. We have been consistently advocating the diversification of energy transportation modes that would improve the reliability of supplies and, therefore, European energy security as a whole.
Russia has ensured regular and reliable natural gas supplies to Greece for two decades. The existing contract with Greece was extended up to 2026 on favorable terms for your country. Being aware of the intention by the Greek leaders to make the country a powerful energy hub in the Balkans, we have always included Greece in our plans to enhance hydrocarbons supply to Central and Western Europe.
Since 2006, Gazprom has been actively promoting the South Stream project. However, at a certain point, its implementation became impossible due to the unconstructive stance adopted by the European Commission. Despite the fact that we had to suspend the project, issues relating to Southern routes of energy shipment to the European Union States are still on the agenda. In February, the heads of Gazprom, Edison (Italy) and DEPA (Greece) signed in Rome a Memorandum of Understanding on the supply of Russian natural gas to Greece and Italy along the Black Sea bottom through third countries.
Russia could also help streamlining the Greek transport infrastructure. We are referring to the participation of Russian business entities in the forthcoming Greek tenders for the purchase of assets of railway companies and the Thessaloniki port facilities. Also on the agenda are a number of other projects that can considerably enhance the potential of bilateral cooperation.
I am confident that friendly relations between Greece and Russia are our common heritage and a solid foundation for a promising and future-oriented partnership. I hope that we will further intensify our dialogue in various fields and jointly implement our plans.