Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday (7 April) called for an end to the “vicious cycle” of sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, while Russian President Vladimir Putin denied using Athens to sow discord within the EU.
Putin and Tsipras hailed mutual ties after meeting in the Kremlin on the first of two days of the Greek premier’s visit to Russia, which is being closely watched by the European Union amid its worst standoff with Moscow since the Cold War.
Both leaders looked relaxed at the start of talks in the Kremlin, with Tsipras wearing no tie and Putin sitting back in his chair as he welcomed him with a handshake and a smile.
“To get out of this profound crisis, we need to leave behind this vicious cycle of sanctions,” Tsipras said after talks with Putin.
Several Western observers had accused Putin of seeking to use cash-strapped Greece as a “Trojan horse” in the EU, with the country possibly vetoing any future embargos against Moscow over the alleged presence of Russian troops and weapons in eastern Ukraine.
“About mythology and Trojan horses and so forth: the question would be valid if I was the one going to Athens,” Putin told a reporter asking about the EU fears. “We are not forcing anyone to do anything.”
“We are not going to use anything inside the European Union to solve in a fragmented fashion the issue of improving relations with the European bloc as a whole,” Putin continued.
He further refuted suspicions that Tsipras is cosying up to the Kremlin in hopes of getting financial aid for its empty coffers.
“The Greek side has not approached us with any requests for help,” Putin said.
Russia last summer issued a blanket ban on importing most agricultural products from the EU, in retaliation against sanctions imposed by the bloc against Moscow.
Greece was particularly hard-hit as over 40% of its exports to Russia were farm products.
“We understand that Greece was obliged to vote for sanctions against Russia,” Putin said.
“We cannot make an exception for one country in the European Union,” he added, regarding a possible lifting of the embargo for Greece.
Putin cautioned, however, that it was still possible to form Greek-Russian partnerships, including in the agricultural sector.
Some EU states are worried such deals might encourage Athens to break ranks over the sanctions, but a Greek government official suggested this would not happen.
“We have not asked for financial aid,” a Greek government official said before the talks in Moscow. “We want to solve our debt and financial issues… within the eurozone.”
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov also said on Tuesday (7 April) that there had been no aid request. Russia is not in a good position to offer aid, as it faces its own economic crisis, aggravated by the sanctions, a drop in global oil prices and the ruble’s decline against the US dollar.