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22nd Sep 2018

Russia repeats offer of Greek aid ahead of EU talks

  • Kotzias (l), a known Russophile, with Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday (Photo: mfa.gr)

Russia has repeated its offer of financial aid to Greece, a few hours before crunch talks by eurozone ministers in Brussels.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told press on Wednesday (11 February) after meeting his Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias, in Moscow: “We have discussed Greece’s financial situation. Russia will consider any proposals it may receive from the Greek government”.

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He noted that “co-operation in the energy sector was [also] discussed, taking into account Greece’s interest in the project of a gas pipeline to Turkey”.

He added that he appreciates Greece's recent criticism of EU sanctions on Russia.

“We value Greece’s position on their futility … the new Greek government has confirmed the continuity of our relations and the intention to develop them at a faster pace".

For his part, Kotzias declined to answer reporters' questions on Russian aid.

But he said the Lavrov meeting, which lasted one hour longer than scheduled, covered "many serious propositions" on Greek-Russian business co-operation.

He noted his government is trying to forge a "new foreign policy" and that “sanctions have never given a good result”.

He added that "discontent is growing over [the] sanctions against Russia" and that a "group of [EU] countries" want to consider "reviewing or relaxing" the current measures.

“Russia is very popular in Greece”, he said.

The two ministers also discussed the Cyprus conflict, plans for Greek PM Alexis Tsipras to attend a WWII memorial in Moscow on 9 May, and plans to mark Greece and Russia’s joint orthodox Christian heritage in 2016.

Eurozone talks

Kotzias’ visit came a few hours before the Greek finance minister sits down with eurozone peers in the EU capital to discuss the future of the Greek bailout.

It also came the same day that French, German, Russian, and Ukrainian leaders are meeting in Minsk on the Ukraine crisis, with the EU side trying to use threats of further economic sanctions on Russia as leverage.

Two Greek ministers - of energy and defence - in recent days said Greece would consider “other sources” of finance if it doesn’t get its way in EU debt talks.

Kotzias himself said in Berlin on Tuesday that “my preference [for financial aid] is Europe and I hope that Europe understands that this is our preference”.

Despite his silence on Wednesday, some analysts see his trip as designed to put pressure on EU negotiators.

“What he’s trying to do is show that Greece has wider friends”, Kevin Featherstone, an expert on Greek politics at the London School of Economics, told EUobserver.

He dismissed Kotzias’ Moscow visit as “political flirtation” and as a “sideshow”, however.

Featherstone noted that even if the eurozone doesn’t reach a final deal on Wednesday, the “core elements” of an accord are already in place.

He said the deal is likely, to an extent, to meet Greek demands for a bridging facility for Greek debt for the next few months and some form of debt relief, for instance, by extending the maturity of Greek bonds or by tying repayments to Greek growth. But it is also expected to involve extensive structural reforms.

“Greece’s fundamental interests are tied to the EU and to the euro", he said.

"The government in Athens has moved considerably in just two weeks - I think they're ready to strike a deal and what remains is largely a face-saving exercise".

The Cyprus' experience

Meanwhile, Greek media say Cyprus’ experience of trying to negotiate a Russian bailout has taught Athens to be wary.

Russia back in 2012 also floated a counter-offer to the EU’s Cyprus rescue package. But it tied its help to far-reaching concessions, including rights for Russian firms to exploit maritime gas fields and to open a military base on its territory.

It then pulled out at the last minute, leaving Cyprus dangling.

The Greek embassy in Russia told this website that Kotzias left Moscow after meeting Lavrov and did not take part in other events.

A contact added that - "to my knowledge" - the Greek ambassador in Russia has not held any detailed talks on debt relief since the Greek elections in January.

Greece up for 'clash' with eurozone ministers

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A first meeting between the new Greek finance minister and his eurozone peers ended without a joint statement, as Athens is still refusing to accept an extension of its bailout programme.

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