AL. TSIPRAS: I would like to thank President Putin for his warm welcome and the hospitality extended to us, and of course for our extremely interesting talks on practically all matters relating to Greek-Russian relations, but also to broader regional and international security issues.
As noted by President Putin, my visit coincides with the 190-year anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. These relations are based on very strong and historic ties; on religious, cultural and spiritual ties between our people.
I believe that this solid background allows us to develop a lasting, stable, yet dynamic relationship.
It is the second time I am visiting the Kremlin and the third time I am visiting the Russian Federation in my capacity as Prime Minister. I had also visited the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum during a very difficult time for Greece. At that time, the political will of my government – with the Russian government and Russian President agreeing – was to steadfastly rebuild constructive foundations for cooperation between the two countries, after a five-year period of inactivity in our relations. Ever since, what has become clear through the proactive, multidimensional foreign policy of Greece, but also from the solid relations of cooperation built with the Russian Federation, is that Greece may be a member state of the European Union and NATO, but at the same time, it is able to put forward a proactive, multidimensional foreign policy paradigm and capitalise on historical relations and partnerships.
Today, 3.5 years later, I find myself here on a completely different occasion. Greece has at last left behind the bankruptcy scenarios and has returned to positive growth rates. The Greek people have pulled through, the Greek economy has pulled through and now we are able to look into the future with greater optimism. Therefore, a more favourable landscape is emerging, which will make our partnership even more productive.
Certainly, the challenges we are facing have not become fewer. On the contrary, I would say that Greece is a country that constitutes a pillar of security and stability in a largely destabilised region. It is directly affected by the developments in this region, by the flow of refugees and migrants and by the security crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean. I think that during this time Russia has been even more dynamically present, on a diplomatic and economic level, in this interesting yet fragile region. So, as agreed with President Putin, under these conditions a Greek-Russian dialogue is becoming even more important. Of course, it is clear that such a dialogue is not always easy, as evidenced this past summer.
However, our desire to keep the relations we have been painstakingly building since 2015 on a stable track has always helped us to overcome any difficulties and reinstate the necessary mutual trust and understanding. In this context, we discussed at length developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, the new energy map taking shape in the region, the role of Russia, and relations between our two countries and Turkey. I certainly voiced our concerns to President Putin regarding Turkey’s new armaments programme, to the extent that it continues to maintain the “casus belli” threat against Greece.
We also talked about the new energy map taking shape in the Eastern Mediterranean in light of the construction of the new Nord Stream pipeline; we also discussed the possibility of extending the Turkish Stream pipeline from Turkey through to Greece and from there on to Italy and the rest of Europe.
This is a project that -in combination with other pipelines under way- will upgrade the role of Greece to a regional energy hub.
I voiced to President Putin my appreciation towards Russia for its unwavering stance with regard to the Cyprus issue; specifically, for its support for the Republic of Cyprus and the prospect of resolving the Cyprus issue based on UN resolutions. I also highlighted the crucial role that the UN Security Council will play in reaching a permanent solution for the Cyprus issue.
We also discussed the prospects of peace and stability in Syria and in Libya, as well as the need to establish in the latter a National Unity Government and a united military that would include the powerful and significant military forces in the East of the country. Because what should be our primary concern is stability in Libya and also in the wider region.
Naturally, we also talked about developments in the Western Balkans; a region whose stability and growth is of crucial importance for us. I availed myself of the opportunity to explain to President Putin the positions of Greece, especially on the sensitive issue of our northern neighbours’ name; and also explain why it is of utmost importance for Greece and the Greek people that the neighbouring country does not carry “Republic of Macedonia” as its constitutional name. Because for us, both the name and the history it transpires and carries, form a very significant part of our historical and cultural heritage.
So that’s why I believe that the Prespa Agreement places this issue –which has remained unresolved for years– on a just basis. And I certainly also believe that we are confronted with an emergence of nationalist trends and potential future conflicts that could destabilise the region.
Needless to say, we also talked at length about EU and NATO relations with Russia. Yet again, I had the opportunity to stress the importance of dialogue, especially when we disagree and even more so at this time, in relation with the invaluable framework in place for conventional and nuclear arms control. As was the case during the tough times of the Cold War, dialogue has always been a valuable tool to resolve differences and prevent dangerous escalation in the future. I stressed to the President that Greece is a member state of the EU and NATO and it steadily honours it commitments, yet it believes that any security architecture or initiative for resolving significant global challenges can but include Russia and, certainly, be based on honest dialogue with it. And this is a position I have been firmly voicing over these 3.5 years at all the international and European fora I have attended in my capacity as Prime Minister of Greece.
In this context, we naturally also talked about developments in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. As you may know, we have an interest in this, as there are over 130,000 civilians of Greek origin in Mariupol.
And of course I would like to thank President Putin for the detailed update he gave me. Let me also inform you that apart from the Agreements we signed, the 11th Joint Interministerial Committee met yesterday. We talked about a series of partnerships in various sectors, but also about Russian investments in the areas of infrastructure and energy. We further agreed on ways to promote Greek exports to Russia, especially in the agri-food sector.
I also informed President Putin on the re-establishment of the honorary Russian consulate in Alexandroupoli, as well as the establishment of an honorary Russian consulate in Nafplion that, we believe, will contribute towards strengthening our relations.
Lastly, as President Putin just noted, we agreed for 2019 to be the Year of Cultural Cooperation between Greece and Russia, the Year of Language and Literature, aiming to reinforce initiatives such as reciprocal translations of books, teaching of language and literature in our universities and other significant exchanges. Because I believe that this long-term friendship, mutual respect and mutual understanding between our peoples are primarily based on the appreciation for each other’s cultures.
So, once more, let me extend my gratitude to President Putin and voice the conviction that this visit was extremely constructive and, I feel, comes at the right time. I believe it will greatly contribute towards continuing this valuable cooperation and substantive dialogue in the coming months, with even greater momentum.
JOURNALIST: Good evening. Your previous official contacts on Russian soil had taken place when Greece was under the memorandum, often cast out in the corner, with all of Europe’s – and the world’s – eyes on it. Do you believe, now that the third programme has been concluded, that the role of Greece in the eastern Mediterranean is being upgraded further? The question is addressed to both of you, Mr President of the Russian Federation.
AL. TSIPRAS: Yes, I think I have already given some clear indications of my views on this in my introductory statement. I believe that this negative conjuncture for Greece in these last eight years has been a dark and bleak parenthesis in its history. But it is something we believe we have overcome today. We are looking towards the future with greater optimism, and we have already regained a large part of the economic sovereignty we had surrendered to our creditors in the past. However, allow me to say that Greece is a country that due to its geographical position could never lose its geopolitical value and importance. More so in the last 3.5 years, by implementing a proactive multidimensional foreign policy, we have proven that we can be a member of the European Union and NATO, but at the same time maintain and strengthen historical relationships of cooperation and friendship. In this sense, we play a significant stabilising role in the region of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans.
Therefore, I believe that Greece is now at a positive juncture, because it is exiting the economic crisis, so these historical relationships of cooperation and friendship may be developed even further, but also because in these times of volatility and destabilisation in the area, we can play a decisive role, based on the principles and values of cooperation, mutual growth and dialogue. We can become a country acting as a bridge of friendship and cooperation between the European Union, Russia and also the Arab world. At the same time, we can play a significant and stabilising role in addressing the major security challenges in the area, but also the challenges relating to energy security and safe transportation of energy resources towards the European continent.
JOURNALIST: After the incidents, that dark page, the well-known story with the diplomats, are the two sides prepared to develop their cooperation, engage in common projects?
AL. TSIPRAS: I believe the question was also addressed to me. I will agree with President Putin’s take on this, that we have to look forward. One rainy day during the summer season doesn’t mean it’s not summer, just because the weather is bad at that specific moment. Nevertheless, what I need to stress publicly is that, for as long as I have been serving as Prime Minister, I am speaking of the post-2015 period, Greece, when it comes to crucial matters regarding Greek-Russian relations, has never acted surrendering under the pressure or the views of third countries. This is also proven by the fact that Greece was the only EU country at the European Council that did not identify with the then desire for a coordinated deportations policy on the Skripal case. On the other hand, when faced with some isolated incidents, because I believe these were isolated incidents, that concern us and bother us, we must send a message, but also look forward. I believe we are looking forward and this story is water under the bridge. What is important today is to develop the great potential we have to expand our partnership in a series of fields. Significant steps have been taken in the last three years, but there’s room for many more.
JOURNALIST: A question for the Greek Prime Minister. Prime Minister, I would like you to comment on the message sent by Russia regarding the potential militarisation of Cyprus by third countries. And also tell me whether the strengthening of Greek-US relations would affect Greek-Russian relations.
AL. TSIPRAS: As to the matter of Cyprus, the necessary contacts with the Republic of Cyprus have been made. If I’m not mistaken, the two Foreign Ministers talked on the phone yesterday and I think clarifications were offered. You know, given its crucial geostrategic location, Cyprus has always offered and must always offer facilities for humanitarian operations. It is clear that never was such an idea put on the table, that I know. And I should also tell you that I contacted President Anastasiades today. So, it is not just about what I do know, it is also the position of the Republic of Cyprus, there are no thoughts whatsoever concerning the prospect of the island’s militarisation, nor are we fighting to resolve the Cyprus issue with troops and third-party guarantees. It would be unthinkable to adopt a militarisation approach while fighting for a solution without troops and without third-party guarantees. This is beyond our logic and I have to make this absolutely clear. Otherwise this is also reflected in the fact that the Republic of Cyprus extends an extremely balanced port access policy to all its friendly partners, including Russia.
Further to that, you asked about Greek-US relations and whether they are to the detriment of Greek-Russian relations. I think that in these 3.5 years, our actions have demonstrated that Greece can be a reliable ally in NATO and the EU while at the same time being a reliable partner of countries with which it maintains and strengthens historical relationships of cooperation and friendship. And I believe these relations have their own momentum, their own deep roots, and are not contradictory. Conversely, I believe that both sides -meaning our allies in NATO, mainly the US, but also the EU countries, and Russia- should capitalise on the value and the role of Greece. Greece would not have the same value and significance for Russia were it not able to be both a reliable ally in the EU and NATO and also a solid and honest partner of Russia at the same time. It would be like every other country of the EU. So, Greece can play a bridging role and aspires to play a bridging role. Certainly, to achieve this, its foreign policy must be based on a proactive and multidimensional foundation, and also on the lasting values we serve. And these lasting values are the respect of international law and striving for cooperation, growth for all, peace, security and stability. This is the path we have followed and this is the way we will keep walking. This is why I believe we are reliable partners and significant allies for Russia as well.
JOURNALIST: Good morning… You stated that during talks you discussed energy cooperation and energy security. Is it possible for a branch of the Turkish pipeline to pass through the country? We are witnessing pressure from the US side. How would you deal with such pressure? And a personal question for the Prime Minister. You said that the Greek economy is growing, but I see you are not wearing a tie. When will you wear your tie?
AL. TSIPRAS: Yes, Greece has been steadfastly supporting the principle of diversification of Europe’s energy sources and energy routes to Europe. Indeed, the principle of diversification means increasing the number of potential sources and routes; definitely not excluding certain sources and routes. In this respect we are of the view that double standards apply within the EU when, in particular, we see North 2 being actively promoted, while Turkish Stream is constantly met with various impediments when it comes to extending it towards the European Union through Greece and Italy. On this, Greece and Italy are sharing a common solid position in the EU; we trust that in the future the European Commission will also be more open as there can be no double standards. In the meantime we have completed about 80% of TAP, a pipeline transporting Azeri gas towards Europe. In this respect, I also believe that an optimal solution in terms of technology and quality would be for TAP to include Russian natural gas. I believe this would benefit the European economy, but also cooperation and growth for all in the area. This is the position we have been steadfastly supporting during the last 3.5 years and will continue to defend at European fora, along with the support of other EU partners as I said earlier.
JOURNALIST: And how about the tie?
AL. TSIPRAS: You may have missed the news, I won the bet and I put on a tie. But the tie came off quickly, because the noose came off the neck of the Greek people. Therefore, I believe that this symbolism has a value of its own. Now, if President Putin offers me a gift, I may use it in the future, in a future meeting.