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Putin Heads to Greece: Energy Talks, Refugee Crisis in Focus

"The Kremlin said the two countries will also discuss military and technical cooperation 'given that Greece is constantly facing the task of restraining Turkey."

Russian President Vladimir Putin is starting his two-day visit to Greece on Friday even as Eurozone Finance Ministers and the IMF remain divided over the debt relief deal inked earlier this week.

 

<figcaption>Putin will also visit the religiously significant Mount Athos, as he did in 2005</figcaption>
Putin will also visit the religiously significant Mount Athos, as he did in 2005

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has announced it is not yet ready to join the EU’s new bailout for Greece.

Putin, accompanied by CEO’s of oil and gas giants Rosneft and Gazprom, will hold talks with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He will also visit Mount Athos.

“Both sides are placing a high priority on the visit as both of them hope the upcoming talks and contacts will help enhance cooperation in all areas,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said ahead of Putin’s visit.

Putin-Tsipras talks are expected to focus on boosting energy ties.

Ushakov claimed Athens “still favors reviving South Stream in one form or another”.

“Currently the work on projected gas supplies from Russia to Greece and Italy via third countries is on, meaning that the pipeline will cross the Black Sea and will run through one of coastal countries, probably Bulgaria further on to Greece and Italy,” he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, Energy Minister Alexander Novak, apart from Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller, Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, are also headed to Greece with Putin.

The talks are expected to be followed by signing of around eight agreements, including an inter-governmental declaration on partnership and an agreement between Rosneft and Greece’s Hellenic Petroleum on supplies of oil and oil products to Greece.

The high-level talks will focus on “the key issues of bilateral trade and economic and investment cooperation, particularly the implementation of joint projects in energy and transport areas,” the presidential press service said.

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.

The currency fluctuations and plunging commodity prices are the primary factors behind the decline as oil and natural gas traditionally account for 85 per cent of Russian exports to Greece.

Putin and Tsipras will also discuss international and regional problems, said the Kremlin press service.

“I have to note that both the president [Vladimir Putin] and Prime Minister Tsipras are united in their certainty that it is necessary to reduce tension in the relations between Russia and the European Union,” Ushakov said.

Athens has repeatedly been raising the issue of resuming supplies of agricultural products to Russia though, Ushakov said, Moscow provides “no particular terms for certain countries” of the European Union regarding lifting of food embargo.

Putin and Tsipras will also discuss the issue of Syrian refugees in Greece.

“Athens is positive on Russia’s policy in Syria as the political settlement of the Syrian crisis may eliminate one of the causes of illegal migration to Europe, which seriously affects Greece,” Putin’s aide Ushakov said.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said earlier this week that the conditions at Idomeni refugee camp in Greece were “a disgrace for those [EU] member states which are not willing to accept refugees and are leaving Greece alone with this problem”.

Fleeing war, conflict and economic devastation, more than 190,000 refugees and migrants have reached European shores by boat so far this year, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

Putin, last year, spoke of the EU bearing the brunt of US foreign policy in the Middle East.

“And it is, first of all, the policy of our American partners. Europe is blindly following this policy within the framework of the so-called allied liabilities, and in the end shoulders the entire burden. I am now quite surprised that some of the American mass media are criticizing Europe for what they consider to be excessive cruelty towards migrants,” the Russian President said.

The Kremlin said the two countries will also discuss military and technical cooperation “given that Greece is constantly facing the task of restraining Turkey.”

On Saturday, the second day of the visit, President Putin will visit Mount Athos for commemorations of the 1000th anniversary of Russian monks’ presence on the holy Mount.

The Greek government owes its creditors more than €300 billion – about 180 per cent of its annual GDP.

Debt relief is considered by the IMF to be essential for Greece. A third bailout, worth €86 billion, was agreed last year.

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