Putin visits Greece ahead of EU sanctions review

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Greece on Friday aiming to reinforce a relationship with one of his few friends in the EU amid continuing diplomatic tensions with the West.

The visit — Mr. Putin’s first to the EU since December — comes as the bloc’s leaders are to discuss next month whether to renew sanctions on Russia’s banking, defence and energy sectors that expire in July.

Greece-Russia relations

EU-Russia relations are at a low ebb over the conflict in Ukraine that broke out in 2014, with European sanctions still in force against Moscow.

Shortly after coming to power last year, Greece’s new leftist government angered its EU peers by holding up a joint statement by the bloc on further sanctions.

Mr. Putin is to meet with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and sign a number of agreements before giving a brief news conference.

Both countries are Orthodox, and religious symbolism is also high on the agenda of the two-day trip, the Russian leader’s first to Greece in nearly a decade.

Except for tourism, Russia is little involved in Greece’s economy despite a flurry of agreements over the years, many of which never came to fruition. In an article in Kathimerini daily on Thursday, Mr. Putin said Russia was interested in tenders involving Greek rail assets and the port of Thessaloniki, a major gateway into the Balkans.

Economic crisis

Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev on Friday said a counter-embargo on EU food products would be stretched to the end of 2017.

Greece has repeatedly sought the help of Russia as it descended into economic crisis over the past six years.

Mr. Tsipras is believed to have requested Russian financial assistance last year as the country teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, although Russian officials have denied any approach. — AFP

EU-Russia relations are at a low ebb over the conflict in Ukraine that broke out in 2014