ATHENS – Russian President Vladimir Putin landed with a one-and-a-half hour delay in Greece on Friday, May 27, for a two-day visit aimed to boost economic and political relations between Athens and Moscow at a time when Russia’s relations with Ankara and Brussels are strained.
Putin, who was accompanied with a high-level delegation, including Russian gas monopoly Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller and Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin, is also expected to discuss trade and investment in cash-strapped Greece, especially in energy and transport. Gazprom is pushing plans to construct a pipeline carrying Russian gas via Turkey or Bulgaria across Greece to Italy, utilising the IGI Poseidon pipeline.
“Greece cannot on its own ease EU’s resistance to Russian plans for a southern route that bypasses Ukraine; so, the involvement of EDF through Edison is encouraging news, as this project needs strong backing, both at a political and business level,” Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe in Athens on Friday, referring to a memorandum signed by Greece’s Public Gas Corporation (DEPA), Gazprom and Italy’s Edison in Rome on February 24.
“But the fate of South Stream II also depends on whether Nord Stream II will proceed and a viable solution over Ukraine is reached, with Moscow’s participation. In such case, not totally abandoning Kiev, having lessened Russia’s dependence by almost 50-60% compared with 2000, might prove enough in securing Moscow’s interests,” Filis said. “Why then promote a project – namely South Stream II – that has complications, costs money and needs to overcome reservations expressed by many Europeans?” he asked.
Moreover, Greece’s biggest refiner Hellenic Petroleum and Rosneft are expected to reportedly sign a memorandum of understanding on May 27.
The timing of Putin’s visit to Greece – given the situation in Syria, the deterioration of relations between Moscow and Ankara, following the downing of the Russian warplane – has geopolitical significance.
Greece is located in a strategic geographical position where three continents meet, Filis said. Russia’s reemergence in the Middle East makes it necessary for it to seek footholds in the wider region. “Compared with its neighbours, Greece is considered as a partner that is and feels closer to Russia. Furthermore, the former’s disappointment with the way its allies-creditors handle the financial crisis creates a window of opportunity for third states, like Russia and China,” he said.
On the other hand, Filis reminded that Athens is attached to its western partners economically, geopolitically and in terms of security to such extent that it has little room to manoeuvre diplomatically. From its part, Russia realises the obvious limitations to advancing its relationship, especially with EU member-states that don’t have the leverage of bigger states, he said.
Meanwhile, Greece wants to de-escalate EU-Russia tensions, as the current situation hurts in many ways both the EU member states and Moscow. “We can also attend a bloc of states requiring the ease of sanctions towards Russia, given the latter’s more constructive role over Ukraine recently. But both Greece and Russia are not willing to risk their affairs and positions vis-à-vis major Western partners, including the US, as they need them more than they need each other,” Filis said.
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