Joint press conference following Russian-Greek talks

Submitted on Fri, 05/27/2016 - 10:59

During his visit to Greece, President Putin met with Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic Alexis Tsipras.

Following the talks, the Political Declaration of Russia and Greece was adopted.

The following documents were signed in the presence of the President of Russia and the Prime Minister of Greece: a Joint Declaration of the Government of Russia and the Government of Greece on Partnership for Modernisation; a Memorandum of Understanding on Inter-regional Cooperation Between the Russian Economic Development Ministry and the Greek Foreign Ministry; and a Roadmap on Broadening Russian-Greek Cooperation in Agriculture.

The relevant agencies signed a Joint Action Programme in Tourism for 2016–2018, memoranda of understanding on cooperation in standardisation, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, investment and trade. An Agreement on the Main Parameters of Oil and Petroleum Products Supply and a Memorandum of Understanding Between the Ural Federal University and the University of Piraeus regarding BRICS projects were signed as well.

Following the talks, Vladimir Putin and Alexis Tsipras held a joint press conference.


President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the leadership of the Hellenic Republic, to all our colleagues for a warm and hearty welcome.

Jointly with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras we held substantial and detailed talks, and considered a broad spectrum of issues of the bilateral and international agendas. I would like to highlight the impressive number of documents signed as part of the visit.

We were at one in thinking that despite negative factors, Russian-Greek relations, the partnership between our countries continue to develop on a steady basis. The Year of Russia held in Greece and the Year of Greece held in Russia are outstanding examples of this.

As you remember, these cross years were launched during the talks with Mr Pavlopoulos in Moscow last January. This is a truly large-scale, inter-state project that embraces a total of 170 events in a wide variety of areas, including culture, science, education, the economy, trade, tourism and sport. The celebration of the 1,000th anniversary of Russian monastic presence on Mount Athos plays an especially important role in the cross years.

Consolidation of trade and economic ties is an important component of this extensive programme. There is certainly much work that needs to be done. Last year, our trade turnover amounted to $2.7 billion, which is 34 percent below our previous indicators. Both the EU sanctions against Russian enterprises and our counter-measures have had an impact, as well as the price drop on energy resources and fluctuations in currency exchange rates.

Jointly with our Greek partners, we outlined a number of practical steps to reverse the negative trends and enter a growth trajectory. Thessaloniki will host the 10th session of the Russian-Greek Intergovernmental Commission in September. The five working groups making it up will have to work intensively to search for new opportunities for cooperation.

I would like to thank the Greek side for granting Russia the status of an honorary guest at the Thessaloniki International Fair. We will actively contribute to this important event. On our part, we are looking forward to seeing our Greek colleagues at the upcoming economic forums in St Petersburg, Vladivostok and the Russian Far East.

There is a huge potential for expanding energy cooperation. Russia has been a major exporter of energy resources to the Greek market over the past 20 years. We cover 60 percent of Greece’s needs in gas and more than 15 percent in oil. A memorandum signed by the Russian Energy Agency and the Greek Centre for Renewable Energy Sources and Saving will facilitate further development of bilateral cooperation in energy efficiency.

We agreed to focus attention on investment cooperation. The figures are modest here: $700 million from the Russian side, while Greek investment in the Russian economy is even more modest, amounting to $12 million. Of course, there are some reserves. I would like to remind you that there are 130 companies with Greek capital in Russia, their trade turnover amounts to $2.5 billion a year.

There is a solid foundation for broadening transport cooperation. In particular, Russian Railways is looking into investing funds in a rolling stock maintenance company and a railway operator, as well as the Thessaloniki port infrastructure.

Russian Helicopters is interested in developing cooperation with Greece in supplying military vehicles, KamAZ – in supplying trucks, United Engine Corporation, another Russian enterprise — in supplying power and gas compressor equipment.

We are determined to actively promote cooperation between Russian and Greek regions. An inter-agency memorandum in this sphere has been drafted to assist in this.

Moscow, Moscow Region and Rostov Region maintain close ties with Greek regions and municipalities. Work is currently underway to establish twin-city relations between Athens and Sochi.

Great attention was devoted to cultural and humanitarian cooperation. As part of the cross-cultural years, Athens and St Petersburg hosted outstanding exhibitions of internationally renowned works of art: gold Scythian items from the collection of Russia’s Hermitage Museum and ancient Greek sculpture from the collection of the Acropolis Museum.

The Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens has opened the exhibition of the Ascension icon by Andrei Rublev from the collection of Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery. The opening was timed to coincide with the present visit.

Renowned Russian performers, including those from the Bolshoi Theatre and the Igor Moiseyev Dance Company, will tour Greece this year.

We are thankful to the Greek leadership for their caring attitude towards memorial sites connected with Russia. I would like to express my gratitude to Piraeus authorities for granting permission to restore headstones and monuments to Russian officers and sailors who died in the late 19th century – early 20th century, in the Russian section of the city cemetery.

We discussed prospects for cooperation in education. Currently 225 Greek citizens are studying at Russian universities, 40 of them on a state-subsidised basis. We agreed on further allocation of state scholarships to Greek students.

Tourism is a very important sector for our citizens as Mr Prime Minister has just pointed out. Unfortunately, we saw a decline in the past years; however, the growth in March of this year amounted to 523 percent. This, naturally, is connected with the situation at the traditional holiday destinations for Russians – Turkey and Egypt. A significant part of Russian citizens is ready to redirect their attention to Greece. Russia’s Federal Tourism Agency reported that Greece has already taken the first place in the number of holiday bookings, and the expected number of Russian tourists amounts to around one million people. However, I believe that if the visa issues are solved promptly, this number might be three times higher.

The signed programme of joint efforts in tourism until 2018 is directed at consolidating cooperation in this sphere. We are certain that this document will serve to promote tourist exchange.

As for international issues, Mr Prime Minister has touched upon almost all the topics we discussed. I can only confirm this. We carefully examined all these issues and concluded that our positions coincide in many of them. Of course, there are some problematic items that we still have to work on.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, I would like to thank the President of the Hellenic Republic, the Prime Minister and all our Greek colleagues for a constructive and substantial exchange of opinions.

I would also like to thank all the residents of Athens for a very warm and hospitable reception. We saw this as we moved around the Greek capital. I would like to apologise for any inconveniences we might have caused, but I am sure that the agreements reached today will make a significant contribution to the development of the Russian-Greek partnership and friendship.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Question: I have a question about trade and economic cooperation, the energy dialogue and common European security.

In February, Gazprom signed a memorandum of intent with European partners on building a pipeline. The project was meant to replace the South Stream, which was curtailed due to the unproductive stance of the European Commission, not through our fault. The new pipeline to be laid across the Black Sea to deliver natural gas to Greece and further to Italy.

Will those wonderful cooperation plans be affected by possible tension caused by the anti-missile defence deployment in Europe? I mean, in particular, AMD elements’ deployment in Poland and Romania.

Vladimir Putin: As for the energy sector, and, in fact, economic cooperation in any field, this is certainly the best guarantee of securing peace because it creates conditions for interaction between people, for promoting mutual interests, and simply creates a good atmosphere for sustaining cooperation.

As you know, we were set to build the South Stream across Bulgarian territory, but we were not given the opportunity to do so. The Bulgarian Government, in fact, under pressure from the United States and the European Commission, dodged the implementation of the project. We were offered to go through Turkish territory. Let me disclose a secret: our Turkish partners stated conditions for changing the gas price from the onset, but this was not the main issue. I think we could have settled that, but we saw no support from the European Commission yet again.

We are ready to consider any project regardless of the context of political relations with any European nation, with our neighbours. However, we need preliminary guarantees; we are not going to fall for empty words about it being in our mutual interests, and we are not going to spend money on it. I would like to point out that we incurred certain costs, we had to spend funds on preliminary work, and those investments were not recouped.

Now we are planning to implement the Nord Stream 2 project. I hope nobody is going to impede us here. However, that does not mean we are no longer willing to work in southern Europe. Just recently, and this has also been mentioned here, an Italian-French company, a Greek company and Gazprom have signed a memorandum. The partners are now evaluating the prospects.

What is the impact of security-related issues on economic cooperation, in particular, the commissioning of the US anti-missile defence deployment area in Romania? What is the impact? The impact is negative, and it cannot be otherwise. Because some time ago the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Missile Defence Treaty and started what amounts to undermining the fundamentals of international security. Yet another step has been made now.

Since the early 2000s, we have been persistently repeating the same thing, like a mantra: we will have to respond to it in some way. Nobody listens to us, nobody is willing to have talks with us, we do not hear anything but platitudes, and those platitudes mainly boil down to the fact that this is not directed against Russia and does not threaten Russia’s security.

Let me remind you that initially there was talk about thwarting a threat from Iran, it was all about the Iranian nuclear programme. Where is the Iranian nuclear programme now? It no longer exists. The Unites States themselves initiated the signing of the treaty with Iran. The Iranian nuclear threat does not exist, while the US anti-missile deployment area is being created and was commissioned in Romania.

What is this? These are launch pads and radar stations. Today, 500-kilometre range Iskander land-based missiles are being deployed; in a few years they will be 1000-kilometre range missiles. We even know the approximate date when such missiles will be deployed. How can this not be a threat to us? It is a clear threat to our nuclear forces.

However, there is something else that is even worse: these compact launch pads can accommodate assault missiles with a 2,400-kilometre range, and replacing the missiles is no problem, one only has to change the software, and nobody is going to notice anything, even the Romanians. Isn’t it a threat to us? It certainly is.

That is the reason we have to respond now, and if yesterday some areas in Romania did not know what it is like to be a target, today we will have to take action to ensure our security. Let me repeat, these are response measures, a response only. We were not the first to take such steps.

The same will be done with regard to Poland. We will wait for certain actions to be taken in Poland. We are not going to do anything until we see missiles on the neighbouring territory. And we have the necessary resources. You saw, the whole world saw our capabilities in terms of medium-range sea and air based missiles. We are not violating anything, but the Iskander land-based missile systems have a brilliant record.

Incidentally, the fact that launch pads are deployed that may be charged with medium-range missiles is nothing short of erosion of the medium and short range missile treaty by our American partners. I think it is an obvious matter that requires the most careful consideration, and undoubtedly, the involvement of the parties concerned in detailed and substantial talks on these issues.

Question (re-translated): Mr President, the day before yesterday the new Turkish Government announced its intention to improve relations with Russia. Could you tell us under what conditions you will improve your relations, which deteriorated after a Russian military aircraft was downed? How can processes in Syria contribute to the creation of a Kurdish state?

Vladimir Putin: Regarding the downing of the Russian bomber. I spoke about it a number of times, and I can say it again. The Russian Aerospace Forces, our servicemen are not fighting in Syria against regular armies; they are fighting against terrorists groups.

We certainly could never have imagined that a Turkish fighter jet could strike our bomber that had no protection against fighter planes. We were not going to fight with Turkey and the Turkish army; otherwise we would have acted differently and used different means. I hope it will never come to that.

However, what happened, happened. Moreover, not only an aircraft was downed, but the pilot who ejected was shot, and according to international law, this is a war crime. We have heard explanations from the Turkish authorities, yet we have not heard any apologies and have not heard about their readiness to compensate for the damage.

We hear about their wish to restore our relations. We would also like to resume our relations, and it was not us who destroyed them. For decades, we had been doing everything to bring Russian-Turkish relations to an unprecedented level of partnership and friendship. This friendship between the Russian and Turkish peoples has reached a truly great level, and we valued it a great deal. I still have no idea why that was done.

However, apart form the wish to resume relations, something else should be done. We keep in contact with the Turkish side, the partners are communicating with us through various channels, and they know our answer. We are expecting some concrete steps from them. We have seen none so far.

As for your question about the Kurdish state, we are not involved in that issue, it is none of our business, it is the business of the Kurdish people, the business of the governments in the countries with sizable Kurdish populations.

In Syria, we are fighting terrorist organisations and preserving legitimate government structures to avoid a collapse. Otherwise, we would see a replay of the Libyan developments, or even worse, the Somalian developments.

We keep in contact on the issue with very many partners, including our American partners. We have established a regular dialogue in some adjoining countries, and we have contacts twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. The Foreign Minister keeps in constant contact; he speaks on the telephone almost on a daily basis, and special services and the Defence Ministry are also working actively. They all operate in their own way, of course, each agency has its own approach, but the process is moving forward. It must be brought to a logical conclusion, namely to the beginning of a peace process and a political settlement of problems. We will do our best to achieve that.

Question: The European Union is currently debating the issue of extending sanctions against Russia. How much was this topic discussed at your talks today?

Do you think the exchange of Savchenko for our guys will have a positive effect on the issue? If I am not mistaken, the G7’s final declaration makes lifting the sanctions contingent on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

And I beg your pardon, I can’t help asking. What do you think of Poroshenko’s statement that if he has managed to bring back Savchenko, he will also bring back Crimea and Donbass?

Vladimir Putin: The first question is about the sanctions. This is not our issue, as we did not impose the sanctions. We took retaliatory measures. As soon as our partners reverse the decisions they took, cancel restrictions against Russia, we will promptly make a similar gesture, a similar step regarding our European partners.

As to Savchenko’s exchange, return and pardon, we discussed this issue with President Poroshenko a fairly long time ago. Our first objective was to return two Russian nationals convicted by a Ukrainian court and serving a sentence in a Ukrainian penitentiary. That’s number one.

Second. I could not have taken this decision without knowing the opinion on this issue of our killed journalists’ families. President Poroshenko’s envoy Viktor Medvedchuk met with them. After he met with the relatives of our killed journalists, the widow and the sister (the closest relative of one of the victims) wrote to me with a request to pardon Savchenko.

Actually, this was the key, the most crucial aspect. It has nothing to do with the Minsk Agreements because they speak of persons detained in Donbass and in Ukraine after they were removed from Donbass. However, we are also actively engaged in that, by the way, through the mediation of Mr Medvedchuk.

Much has been done, but a great deal still remains, and I hope it will all be completed. I personally think that this work should be completed, and all the people who are being detained by the Ukrainian side and by the Donbass side should be released. However, let me repeat, this is a difficult process involving reciprocal claims and finding out who is being detained where and why.

Regarding the return of Donbas or, as you said, Crimea. The issue of Donbass may be settled, and Mr Prime Minister has mentioned this now, exclusively under the Minsk Agreements, which have a political component as the key.

First. Amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution should be made in accordance with the Minsk Agreements. They have to do with decentralisation, as they like to say in Ukraine. By the way, the Greek experience could be used in this respect. The current President here used to be a Minister of Decentralisation, he was Minister of the Interior and Decentralisation. They used to ponder the issue here, in Greece.

Second. A law on amnesty should be passed. How can elections be held, how can people be re-integrated into state structures, the state, if they are prosecuted? This is also stipulated in the Minsk Agreements.

Finally, a law should be enacted on the special status of Donbass. These decisions should not be put off under the pretext that someone is shooting at someone in the delimitation zone. If there is no will to pursue political change, there will always be someone to fire a shot, and someone to return it. This will go on infinitely until political decisions are made. A law on elections should be passed, of course, and the elections should be supervised by the OSCE.

As for Crimea, we believe the issue has been closed for good. This is a historical decision of the people living in Crimea, and Russia will never discuss the issue with anyone. A Russian saying comes to mind, God grant, your calf would eat up our wolf. So let us not come back to the issue again.

Question (re-translated): The question regarding dialogue is for both leaders. I would like to hear some examples illustrating the substance of the dialogue. Do you think raising Greece’s role and quality may contribute to such issues as peace in Syria, Europe-Russia relations and Russia’s relations with Turkey? Do you expect the bilateral relations to become stronger through such dialogue?

Vladimir Putin: Regarding the possible effect, or what we can expect from Greece in our dialogue with the European Union and Turkey in solving the Syrian problem.

First of all, I can say that we are perfectly aware of what kind of world we live in, and Greece itself is in a difficult situation. The Prime Minister has to make some very tough decisions, decisions that I believe are necessary but very difficult. We do not expect Greece to repeat the Labours of Hercules, and Greece is unlikely to clean the Augean stables of European bureaucracy.

Yet Greece is the motherland of outstanding thinkers and schools of philosophy. I heard they found Aristotle’s grave here recently. In this regard, we certainly believe that, given our very warm relations going back many centuries, this is a good foundation for Russian-Greek relations. And we think that Greece can certainly contribute to and influence decision-making in the European Union and with the neighbours, especially if it initiates and creates conditions for implementing large regional projects. Of course, such joint work always lays the groundwork for solving other issues, including fairly complicated ones in other areas and fields, including politics and security.

Regarding Syria. What do we need to do to prevent the flow of refugees to Europe? We should, firstly, create conditions for the people living there – the Syrians, Iraqis and Libyans – so that they could live normally at home. This is key. Otherwise, the refugee problem cannot be solved. It will only grow worse. Africa is big, and you cannot hold back the whole of Africa.

What should we do for that? We must defeat the terrorists. And this can only be done by joint efforts. I said this as I spoke at the anniversary session of the United Nations General Assembly. This applies to Russia and the regional nations, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as Iran and the United States, and of course, Europe.

We must do this together but we can only do it when we realise the danger terrorism poses to all of us, and when we are able to overcome the contradictions separating us. But this will have to be done some day.

Thank you.