Russia and Greece: Results of the Putin-Tsipras Meeting in Moscow on December 7, 2018
On December 7, Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras paid an official visit to Russia at the invitation of President of Russia Vladimir Putin. This was yet another one on one meeting between Putin and Tsipras and the first in 2018. Since 2015, when Tsipras’ radical left SYRIZA party came to power in Greece, the two leaders have met every year, this being their fourth meeting. Previously, they had meetings in Moscow in 2015, Athens in 2016, and Beijing in 2017 (on the sidelines of the One Belt, One Road International Forum). During the same visit, the Greek prime minister met with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev. The members of the two delegations discussed “the present state and prospects for trade and economic cooperation as well as the implementation of joint projects in energy, industry, transport infrastructure, hi-tech, agriculture and other fields.”

A characteristic feature of Russian-Greek relations at the present stage is the intensity of bilateral contacts and a regular exchange of views at the level of national leaders on international and regional matters. This makes the meeting’s informational and cultural context even more important, given that 2017/2018 has been announced the cross-year of tourism for both countries. In 2018, Russia and Greece have been celebrating the 190th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. The only fly in the ointment during this anniversary year was a diplomatic row that culminated in reciprocal expulsions of diplomats. Nevertheless, this temporary lapse in mutual understanding between Russia and Greece failed to impede the implementation of earlier agreements, and, in a sense, even provided an impetus to a more active rapprochement and cooperation in various fields.
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As it was expected by most observers the visit of the Greek prime-minister to Russia eased the way for better relations between Athens and Moscow without either rocking the boat of the European Union or committing Russia to extravagant financial deals difficult to materialize in these difficult times.
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The discussions touched upon bilateral relations, trade and economic cooperation, and topical international subjects. Putin and Tsipras confirmed that they managed to overcome tension in their relations. The Russian president stressed that Russia had always supported the independence of Greece, the Greek people and the Greek state and would “continue to do this in the future regardless of whether the Greek people are facing hard times or are prospering. The reason for this is rooted in our historical relations and our spiritual affinity.”

While discussing ways to intensify investment cooperation, Putin singled out the need to stabilize the Greek economy as a stepping stone to more detailed agreements. At the same time, he pointed out that Russian businesses had a considerable investment potential and could be more active and confident, given the right economic climate.

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The recent parliamentary elections reaffirmed the political hegemony of Syriza and Alexis Tsipras personally in the Greek political system. The leftist party scored 35 percent of vote and formed a coalition government with a small right-wing party.
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For his part, Alexis Tsipras mentioned European and global security problems, saying that Greece as a NATO and EU member thought it impossible to build any security system without Russian involvement, adding that he defended this view at all European and international fora.

Putin and Tsipras discussed prospects for bilateral energy cooperation, the former emphasizing that this cooperation was of strategic importance for both countries. According to official statistics, Russia accounts for around 60% of all gas supplies to Greece. In addition to this, Greece is increasingly interested in joining Russia’s infrastructure projects envisaging gas supplies to Europe via the southern route, specifically the Turkish Stream that has reached the coast of Turkey. Russian gas can also be delivered by the Trans-Adriatic pipeline intended to supply gas to Europe from Caspian Sea fields. Tsipras noted that Greece’s accession to Russian southern gas supply projects would give it a bigger role in the regional energy hub. Simultaneously he admitted that the European Commission was engaging in double standards in its approach to a number of Russian energy projects in Europe. A case in point is the South Stream project that was buried several years ago for political reasons. Had it been implemented, Greece would have been the main transit country in South and Southeast Europe. According to the Greek prime minister, he regarded this approach to energy matters as counterproductive and contradicting the interests of most regional players. He also expressed hope that the situation would change for the better in the near future.  

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