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Putin says EU needs Russian help to stay on global stage, on eve of Greece trip

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Putin says EU needs Russian help to stay on global stage, on eve of Greece trip

Vladimir Putin [The Kremlin]

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed in an article published Thursday (26 May) that the EU would not be a global player without his country’s help as he prepared to visit the bloc.

Putin, who starts a two-day visit to Greece on Friday, also called for an energy alliance with Europe and the relaxation of visa rules for Russians travelling to the EU.

“A rightful position of the Old Continent in the new international realities can only be secured by combining capacities of all European countries, including Russia,” Putin said in the article in the Kathimerini Daily.

“We believe our relations with the EU do not face any problems that we cannot solve. To get back to a multifaceted partnership, the deficient approach of one-sided relationships should be abandoned. There should be true respect for each other’s opinions and interests.”

Meanwhile, in Japan at the G7 summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear the group had no plans to withdraw the sanctions placed on Moscow over the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“For me it’s too early to give the all clear,” Merkel told reporters in response to questions on the sidelines of the summit,, adding that an earlier pro-sanction policy would remain in place.

“There is no change of position to be expected” from the G7, she said.

EU and Ukraine celebrate the release of Nadia Savchenko

Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko arrived home in Kyiv today (25 May) after nearly two years in a Russian jail, part of a prisoner swap in which two Russians held in Ukraine were returned to Moscow.

Trade and economy will top the agenda of the Putin visit to Greece, Moscow said.

Greece and Russia will sign a “number of bilateral agreements,” the Kremlin said without providing further details.

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.

The sanctions on Russia’s banking, defence and energy sectors expire in July. Extending them will require a unanimous vote, and EU leaders are expected to discuss the issue next month.

Putin is due to meet Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens on Friday.

Putin and Tsipras will also unveil the famous icon by Andrei Rublev, the Ascension, which is on loan from the Tretyakov Gallery to the Byzantine and Christian Museum.

On Saturday, he will join celebrations for the 1,000th anniversary of the Russian presence at the ancient monastic community of Mount Athos in northern Greece, one of Orthodox Christianity’s holiest sites.

Greece has repeatedly sought the help of Russia, a fellow Orthodox country, as it descended into economic crisis over the past six years.

NATO finalises military build-up to counter Russia

NATO foreign ministers began finalising the alliance’s biggest military build-up since the end of the Cold War yesterday (19 May), in order to counter what they see as a more aggressive and unpredictable Russia.

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

Russian companies have also been repeatedly linked to Greek energy and transport privatisation deals that were never completed.

However, Putin indicated in Thursday’s article that Russia remains interested in tenders involving Greek rail assets and the port of Thessaloniki.

Kathimerini said a deal between Russian oil giant Rosneft and Greek refiner Hellenic Petroleum could be signed during the visit.

Citing estimates from Russia’s state tourism agency Rostourism, the Kremlin added that around one million Russians are expected to visit Greece this year – with Greece accounting for the largest number of booked package tours from Russia so far – as Athens seeks to benefit from a Moscow boycott of Turkey and Egypt.

Putin was in Europe in June, when he visited Italy and held talks with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Pope Francis, and again in Paris late in 2015 for the COP21 climate talks.

Tsipras visited Moscow for talks with Putin twice last year, in April and June, ahead of his re-election in September.