Joint news conference with Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis 2021-12-08 17:10:00 Sochi Following Russian-Greek talks, Vladimir Putin and Kyriakos Mitsotakis gave statements for the press and replied to journalists’ questions. President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Prime Minister, colleagues, We are pleased to welcome the Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic to Russia. I appreciate that, despite the difficult epidemiological situation, my colleague nevertheless accepted our invitation to visit Russia. It is symbolic that this visit is taking place during the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution, an event that marked the beginning of an eight-year struggle for independence, which resulted in Greece becoming a free and independent state. Allow me to remind you that Russia fully supported Greece’s national liberation movement and was the first to recognize the country’s independence in 1828. To this day, the peoples of the two countries are linked by strong friendship and deep cultural and humanitarian ties. Our relationship is traditionally evolving in the spirit of neighbourliness, respect and mutual consideration for each other’s interests; it embraces numerous areas of cooperation; it is a mutually beneficial partnership. Today's meeting with Mr Mitsotakis took place in exactly this kind of atmosphere. It was very substantive and productive. We discussed at length the most important current aspects of our cooperation. I am confident that the comprehensive Joint Action Plan between Russia and Greece for 2022–2024 will give a fresh impetus to our bilateral relations while perfectly meeting the goals we have set ourselves. The Greek Prime Minister’s visit coincided with the signing of a number of agreements, in particular, those covering maritime security, tourism, finance, and high technology. Overall, I would like to note with satisfaction that Russian-Greek ties have not lost momentum and continue to grow stronger consistently in all areas. In particular, despite the difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, our mutual trade grew by 56 percent in the first nine months of this year. Note that it decreased by 37 percent last year and has gained 56 percent by now, which is $3.2 billion. We have almost reached pre-pandemic levels. Russia’s investments in Greece total almost $650 million. In addition, our companies are interested in implementing more joint projects, including those on developing infrastructure on Greek territory and building up investment in other branches of the economy. We are hoping for reciprocal interest and assistance from the Greek authorities. The Mixed Commission on Economic, Industrial, Scientific and Technical Cooperation promotes the diversification of trade and investment exchanges. Its regular, 13th session took place in Moscow the other day. The Russian-Hellenic Business Council actively promotes direct contacts between businesses. Incidentally, Greek business people always attend the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, and we will be happy, as I told our guest today, to see our Greek partners at this event or the Eastern Economic Forum. During the talks, I also expressed hope that Greece would support Moscow’s application for hosting the EXPO-2030 universal world fair. I would like to emphasise that our country has been an invariable participant in these fairs for 170 years now. Naturally, the talks focused on key areas of bilateral cooperation, such as energy. Russia meets over 40 percent of Greece’s demand in natural gas. It supplies it, in part, via the Turkish Stream pipeline. This year, we increased our exports by over 12 percent to 3 billion cubic metres. Importantly, Russia always honestly and fully complies with its contractual commitments with Greece and other European partners and consumers. Naturally, we will continue our guaranteed, failsafe energy supplies. Moreover, we are willing to enhance our cooperation in this area, in part with due account for the growing role of gas as the cleanest, eco-friendly fuel. We considered matters related to our interaction in the field of emergency response. Last summer, as you know, Greece faced several large-scale forest fires, and Russia could not remain indifferent, although at that time, Russia was also struggling with fires in the vast forests of Siberia and the Far East. Russia sent specially equipped aircraft to fight fires in Greece, and our specialists worked there for some time. That involved both licensed equipment and equipment supplied to Greece on special terms. Mr Prime Minister and I agreed to provide full support for the development of tourism, given that Greece with its historical, cultural and religious landmarks, as well as resorts, is very popular with Russian citizens. We are grateful to the Greek authorities for the decision to recognise Russian Sputnik V vaccination certificates. It is very important that Greece and Russia place great importance on the preservation of their rich historical heritage, and maintain the historic and cultural sites that are important for our countries, and we also spoke about this today. In particular, I informed the Greek Prime Minister of our decision to transfer to the Hellenic Republic the archives of that country's Jewish communities, which the Nazis moved to Germany during World War II, and which have been in Moscow since 1945. The necessary formalities for this transfer should be completed shortly. The Russia-Greece Cross Year of History has been extended until mid-2022 by mutual agreement. The Cross Year events – more than 140 have been planned – have aroused great interest. We agreed to continue the practice of holding thematic years, which has shown such good results. When discussing the international agenda, we touched on the outlook for further work on EU-Russia relations, the situation in the Balkans and in the Eastern Mediterranean. As for the problem of Cyprus, we once again reaffirmed Russia’s support for achieving a comprehensive, just and viable settlement within the international legal framework established by UN Security Council resolutions, which would reunite Cyprus as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with a single international legal status, sovereignty and citizenship. In conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude to Mr Mitsotakis for our productive joint work today. Taking this opportunity, I would like to extend my Christmas and New Year greetings to the Prime Minister of Greece and to all the friendly Greek people. Thank you. Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis (retranslated): Thank you, Mr President. Today, we had an opportunity to meet and discuss our bilateral relations and our prospects in a sincere and productive atmosphere. Thank you for this, and thank you again for your hospitality. I assure you that I consider this meeting to be yet another step towards strengthening relations between our nations and yet another opportunity for expanding relations between our governments on a foundation of mutual respect and mutual benefit. I would like to recall that initially I was to come to Russia in May 2020 for the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the Victory over Nazism, but I could not attend due to the pandemic. This is why our meeting is taking place now, because the conditions for it are favourable, despite the persisting problems. Our meeting coincides with the 200th anniversary of our liberation from the Ottoman yoke. We are referring to the struggle in which co-religionist Russia played a decisive role, a role that the Greeks will never forget and have always recognised. It would be natural for me to list, together with Mr President, the many things that have linked us over the centuries. We can recall our history and culture that are largely common to both states. This is facilitated by the successful joint organisation of the Cross-Year of Greek and Russian History, which we have decided to extend, as well as the recent 13th meeting of the intergovernmental commission in Moscow. This was attended by Greek co-chair, First Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgos Varvitsiotis. The participants signed a protocol that will promote our cooperation in many areas. We are content with the three agreements within it that enhance our bilateral contractual legal base. The President of Russia and I adopted a joint plan of action for 2022–2024. It establishes the main areas of cooperation for the next three years. It is an important document with a bearing on many bilateral issues. However, we agree that there are also other spheres of cooperation we can discuss, primarily our humanitarian contacts. Mr President mentioned the devastating wildfires, which, among other things, clearly show that we are faced with the consequences of an aggravated climatic situation, and we saw what the environmental implications can be. I thank the President and the Russian Federation for providing us with direct help in a difficult situation. This gave us a reason to consider and understand how important it is to strengthen cooperation in combating natural disasters, in particular, wildfires. We discussed, among other things, buying two or more pieces of firefighting equipment from Russia. We also discussed issues related to countering the common threat presented by the pandemic. We discussed not only ways to interact in healthcare, but also related economic measures in order to minimise the fallout of the pandemic for society. We have also discussed energy issues. For more than 30 years now, Russia has been supplying natural gas to Greece. For us, Russia is a stable and valuable partner, and the President put it very well when he said that this is an entire large-scale dimension of our interaction, which we highly appreciate. It is very important for us to comply with the relevant arrangements and terms and conditions, and stick to these agreements. We discussed the prospects for Greek investment in the Russian Federation and Russian investment in Greece, primarily, in tourism, and what can and should be done to increase the tourist flow next year. We discussed and noted the signing of a programme for 2022–2024 tourism cooperation. I had the opportunity to discuss regional international cooperation and developments in the Eastern Mediterranean. I noted that, unfortunately, Turkey has recently been resorting to very aggressive rhetoric. Greece is open to dialogue based on international law and the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which are of fundamental importance if we want to reach any agreement. With regard to the Cyprus issue, I expressed my appreciation for Russia’s consistent and constructive stance. It is an extremely important national priority for Greece. I reiterated our commitment to the goal of developing a viable solution and enshrining it in a Security Council resolution. This resolution cannot be drafted without the abolition of the anachronistic guarantee system and without the withdrawal of Turkish occupation forces. The two-zone and bi-communal structure must be preserved on the island, and all issues must be resolved based on reciprocity and mutual respect. Varosha is another issue that we touched on when we discussed Cyprus. I will emphasise that if Turkey keeps talking about populating this abandoned town, it will ruin prospects for any progress on this track. Our dialogue was direct and sincere. We note the major challenges we are facing, and we always have an urgent need for direct communication because the absence of communication does not lead to anything good. Russia is part of the European security architecture and for this reason, many countries are interested in its participation in a dialogue, especially between Russia and the EU and Russia and NATO. I am also concerned about the exacerbation of tensions in Ukraine and still hope that there will be no serious clashes. After all, the Minsk agreements must be observed, among other accords. Let us not forget that Greece is interested in a settlement, and non-aggravation of the crisis in that region because many Greeks, our compatriots, live there. We also exchanged views on the situation in the West Balkans and spoke about Libya at length. We agreed that Libya should use this opportunity to hold elections. In conclusion, I would like to say that the level of this meeting, of our dialogue, reflects Russia’s attitude towards our country and your personal attitude towards me. I think that despite the passage of time, over the centuries, one thing is immutable: Greece continues to be in the heart of Russia. As I have said, we remember Alexander Pushkin who chanted the praises of the 1821 revolution by writing the verse, “Revolt, Oh Greece, revolt.” We should also recall Ioannis Kapodistrias who became a landmark figure in the history of our two countries. Let us not forget the dozens, hundreds and even thousands of young people who now live in Russia, in the south of Russia, who are our compatriots, our brothers. At one time, they were probably driven out of other countries, but they found a second homeland in Russia, in the south of Russia. We should also mention the young people who study Greek. I will also mention Fyodor Yurchikhin, a cosmonaut who made five space flights, and another Fyodor, our maestro Teodor Currentzis who guides us in the friendly and interesting world of music with his conductor’s baton. Relations between Greece and Russia and between Greeks and Russians continue. They are in the past, present and future. I would like to thank you once again for your hospitality, intensive talks, your time and the exceptional conversation. Thank you. Question (retranslated): Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and plays a certain decisive and important part in decision-making. How do you assess the situation in the Aegean Sea region and in the Eastern Mediterranean in general? Vladimir Putin: The Prime Minister has just said that we discussed this matter in detail. We believe that the issues arising there, controversial as they may be, will be addressed in the course of a dialogue. I believe that the Greek side is committed to this. We support it in every possible way and, frankly, we do not see any obstacles to starting this dialogue. I just stated my position on the Cyprus problem. With regard to other, smaller island-specific issues, and the like – I think these kinds of problems have always been resolved on a bilateral basis and they can be resolved in that manner going forward. With regard to the Eastern Mediterranean, including Libya, we covered this in great detail. We believe that the planned domestic political events – the elections – will be held as planned and will stabilise the situation in that country. We maintain contact on this issue with all stakeholders, including the leading EU countries and the Republic of Turkey. I hope that here, too, solutions will be found that will suit everyone and would lead to lasting stabilisation. Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I had the opportunity to inform the President about the state of the Greek-Turkish dialogue, the state of relations between our countries, and the framework of our current agreements. We see certain things differently. One of the issues that worries us and one of the differences is border delimitation, but these issues need to be addressed under international law and the Convention on the Law of the Sea – as with other situations, in the case of the Republic of Egypt, for example. There is one approach that we want and encourage the parties to use: to conduct an energetic dialogue with all stakeholders and the non-violation of territorial integrity and the sovereign rights of our countries, including when addressing the Cyprus issue. To reiterate, we thank Russia for its firm position on the Cyprus issue and the implementation of the resolutions that were reached earlier, since our positions – Russia’s and ours – are absolutely clear and not subject to change. Question: Ksenia Golovanova, Interfax news agency. I have a question for both President Putin and Prime Minister Mitsotakis. Both of you have praised Russian-Greek relations. However, we all know that Greece is a member of the EU and NATO, an alliance that is pursuing a clearly confrontational policy towards Russia today. Is there a threat that this situation could damage bilateral relations? And in a follow-up to this topic, a question for Mr President. Yesterday you talked to the President of the United States, a country with tremendous influence over both NATO and the EU countries. You spoke about “red lines” and instructed your teams to analyse those “red lines.” What do you think of the outcome of the talks? Do you believe they can pave the way to decreasing the intensity of the confrontation with the West? Vladimir Putin: They can do what? Ksenia Golovanova: Pave the way to decreasing the intensity of the confrontation with the West today. Vladimir Putin: The first part of the question concerns Greece’s membership in two blocs: the North Atlantic military bloc, NATO, and the political and economic association, the European Union. These are different matters, we have never objected to the presence of our nearest neighbours and partners in political and economic associations. On the contrary, we think this is, to a certain degree, a big plus, meaning those deep historical roots that bind the peoples of Russia and Greece. I believe Greece has always advocated and will advocate, as much as possible, a balanced and objective position on a number of issues pertaining to Russia-EU interaction, as has been the case for many decades. As for NATO, it is a military bloc. Regretfully, the NATO bloc is pursuing a confrontational line towards Russia. The latest issues are seemingly technical, but nevertheless, the expulsion of diplomats, which ultimately made us close the respective NATO agency in Moscow, shows that the alliance is unfriendly to us, to put it mildly. In addition, they declare Russia is an adversary. There is nothing good about this, we are not striving for any confrontation with anyone. We hope that in this respect Greece will hold a position of containment, as they say. But in any case, Greece’s membership in either association has never impeded the progress of our bilateral relations. I hope this will continue, and we will use the experience of our Greek friends for them to play a positive role in relations with the two associations. To be honest, I do not see any major problems here. With regard to the conversation with the US President, yesterday, Mr Ushakov, my aide in charge of international affairs, spoke in detail about the issues covered during the talks. Today, I also briefed my colleague from Greece in general terms. Indeed, we discussed regional issues, the conflict in southeastern Ukraine and one more issue that is related to this situation and is very sensitive for us – we touched on it too – namely, the eastward expansion of NATO, including by way of Ukraine joining it. This is one of the key issues behind ensuring Russia's security in the medium term and even for the strategic outlook. We speak about this constantly and publicly, and let our partners know that this is unacceptable for us. One thesis is very straightforward, and we discussed it yesterday: no doubt, every country is entitled to choose the most acceptable way to ensure its security, but this should be done so as not to encroach on the interests of other parties and not to undermine the security of other countries, in this case, Russia. You know, this is the same as in relations between people: freedom is, of course, a God-given right, and it should be unrestricted, but only as long as it does not interfere with another person’s freedom. And this is where mutual restrictions should come into force. We believe that while ensuring security, security must be global and cover equally everyone, so this is a topic of a separate conversation. We agreed that we will continue this discussion and do so substantively. We will exchange views on this matter shortly. Russia will put its thoughts down on paper literally within a few days, maybe within a week. We will submit them to the American side for review. We agreed to set up a corresponding body which would deal with this professionally. We spoke in detail about cybersecurity, ensuring security in this area, and stated that we managed to make significant progress on it following our meeting in Geneva. A constructive dialogue has been established. It is under way, and corresponding bodies have been created. Information exchange has been established, which is positive and yields positive results. We discussed the Iranian problem. I hope that the President of Iran will accept my invitation and visit Russia early next year. Of course, we will inform our Iranian friends and partners in detail about our dialogue with the Americans on these matters, and we will continue to discuss this issue during the Iranian President’s possible visit to Russia early next year. We discussed a number of other issues regarding normalisation of diplomatic ties and so on. We talked for a long time and covered all these issues in detail. The conversation lasted for more than two hours; I cannot say exactly how long. I want to stress once again: the conversation was very open, substantive and, I would say, constructive. In any case, I hope that this is how the American side assesses the results of our meeting. We have the opportunity to continue this dialogue, and I think this is the most important thing there is. Kyriakos Mitsotakis (retranslated): Indeed, Greece has been an EU member for 40 years now and is a NATO member as well. It has largely strengthened its positions in these structures and other organisations, but this does not mean at all that we do not want to develop relations with the Russian Federation. Quite the contrary: there are many areas where we can strengthen and develop our cooperation and they will by no means necessarily directly affect Russia’s relations with NATO or the EU. I would also like to thank you, Mr President, for providing me with detailed analytical information about your conversation with the US President. This conversation lasted for over two hours and I consider this a positive fact. Our common goal is to draft and adopt a certain roadmap for reducing tensions, because if they exist, they can and will escalate and set us back many decades, especially in the event of crises. There is a huge amount of difficulties and problems that we are facing and must resolve. It is necessary to preserve communication channels, to be sincere and straight, and to try to settle all problems in this spirit and with the right approach. Question: Andrei Kolesnikov, Kommersant newspaper. Mr President, can you dispel the main doubt: Is Russia still going to attack Ukraine or not? If not, can you explain why? And if yes, the answer is even more urgently needed. Thank you. Vladimir Putin: This is a question designed to provoke. Russia pursues a peaceful foreign policy but it has the right to ensure its security, as I have already said, in the medium to longer term. We are discussing this issue with our partners – all our partners, including my partner in conversation yesterday, US President Joseph Biden. We are bound to be concerned over the prospect of Ukraine’s potential accession to NATO because this will be followed by the deployment of corresponding troop contingents, bases and weapons that threaten us. I have already described this in broad strokes, replying to the previous question. I will flesh out my claims in response to your question. I think it will be enough of an answer for today. We proceed from the premise that our concerns will be heard, at least this time. That said, over the past few decades we continuously expressed our concerns and asked our partners to abstain from certain actions but nonetheless NATO infrastructure inevitably moved closer to our borders and now we are seeing Mk 14 missile defence systems in Poland and Romania. We have every reason to believe that the same will happen in Ukraine if NATO accepts it. How can we not think about this? Looking on helplessly at what is happening there would be simply criminal negligence. This is exactly what our talks dealt with. Let me repeat again: we have agreed to create a relevant structure that will be in a position to address this problem practically and thoroughly and will present relevant proposals. I must admit that the US President put forward this idea. I agreed with it and said that we will soon submit our ideas and proposals in this regard. It is probably premature to speak about these proposals until we formulate them. That said, I realise that they understandably evoke heightened interest among the Russian, European and international public. We will, of course, do this as publicly as we can.