Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Mr President, today we had the opportunity to have a long, honest and productive conversation, to go over our bilateral relations and their prospects. I would like to thank you once again for your hospitality and reassure you that I consider this as yet another bridge that strengthens the relationship between our two peoples; but also as an opportunity to broaden cooperation between our two governments, on the basis of mutual respect and our mutual interest.
I would like to remind you that I had planned to travel to Russia in May 2020, for the celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of Nazism’s defeat, but I was unable to come due to the outbreak of the pandemic. So the visit is taking place today, as circumstances have improved -in spite of the ongoing issues- and it coincides with the 200th anniversary of our war for independence from Ottoman rule, a struggle in which our coreligionist Russia played a decisive role, Mr President. It is something that we Greeks always acknowledge. It was only natural then that, together with President Putin, we reaffirmed all that connect us over the course of the centuries, transcending history and culture.
The very successful “Greece – Russia History Year” initiative, which will be expanded to include part of 2022, has served and continues to serve in that direction. The same goes for other initiatives, such as the 13th joint ministerial commission that recently convened in Moscow, co-chaired by our Alternate Foreign Minister, Mr Miltiadis Varvitsiotis. The signing of the pertinent protocol gives traction to our collaboration in many areas and both sides are satisfied with the four agreements it contains.
Along with President Putin we adopted a common activities schedule for the 2022-2024 period, which will outline the main axes of our cooperation over the next three years. It is an important document, which features many areas of common interest. We agreed nonetheless that there are other fields where we can find common ground. For example -President Putin already made reference to this- the wildfires in Greece and the entire Mediterranean region during the summer brought dramatically to the fore the need for supranational coordination in dealing with the immediate effects of the climate crisis.
I would like to personally thank the President for his swift response to our request for assistance. Although Russia was concurrently facing destructive blazes in Siberia, he dispatched very significant air support. We look forward to the continuation and -why not- the broadening of this collaboration in the field of civil protection, starting from the coming summer, with the recurring leasing of aircraft that have proven very reliable in dealing with wildfires.
The same goes, of course, for the common threat posed by Covid. I would like to thank President Putin for acknowledging that Greece has indeed recognized Russian vaccination certificates and hopefully this pending matter can be resolved at the European level as well.
We also discussed matters pertaining to the energy market. Russia has consistently proved, over the past almost 30 years, to be a reliable gas supplier to Greece, just as Greece has proved to be a reliable partner. President Putin is well-aware of this, as he personally ascribes great significance to this aspect of cooperation with third countries. And it is important that, despite volatility in market conditions, any fluctuations in the supply of natural gas do not diverge considerably from what has been agreed.
We discussed the prospect of greater investment flows, Greek investments in Russia and Russian investments in Greece, matters related to tourism, how we can welcome greater numbers of Russian visitors this summer and I think that we have reached a common activities plan.
I would also like to thank President Putin for the interest he has shown in the records of the Jewish communities, which will be returned to Greece, thus solving a matter that had remained unresolved for many decades.
We had the opportunity to discuss regional developments; what has been going on in the Eastern Mediterranean. I unequivocally stressed that unfortunately Turkey not only engages in inflammatory rhetoric, distorting history and geography, but also in aggressive actions that violate international law and often jeopardize regional stability.
Greece is always open to dialogue, but in the framework of international legality and the Law of the Sea, which Russia supports and has always supported as the basis, the substantive framework for the resolution of disputes between states.
Regarding the Cyprus issue, I expressed my appreciation for Russia’s consistent and constructive approach. It is a matter of great significance for Greece. I reiterated our position: that we aim for a viable solution in the framework of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. I couldn’t agree more with what the President said. A solution that is based on the rationale for a bizonal, bicommunal federation, with a single international personality and a single citizenship. Any discussion for a two-state solution should be rejected as a matter of principle. As regards Varosha, I underscored that if Turkey moves to fulfill its proclamations about opening the fenced-off town to settlers it will effectively eliminate any room for progress on this issue.
We had the opportunity to talk about EU – Russia and NATO – Russia relations. I think we had a very candid and very frank discussion. While I acknowledge the great challenges, I favor always keeping communication channels open. Because the lack of communication is worse than disagreement in the end, since it leaves room for misgiving, which in turn fosters tensions.
Russia constitutes part of the European security architecture. Therefore, a functional relationship benefits all sides. Greece, being an EU and NATO member, approaches these relations with great attentiveness; hence I never concealed my concerns for the renewed tensions in Ukraine.
I believe that a conflict there would produce no winners, only losers. That is why I think that the Minsk agreements and the reactivation of the Normandy format point in the right direction. And let us not forget that Greece has a particular interest in the Donbass area, due to the strong presence of the Greek diaspora.
We also had the opportunity to discuss developments in Libya and jointly reiterate the need for free elections to take place without any foreign interference, on the date that was set a long time ago.
Let me conclude, Mr President, by saying that the cordial manner in which you welcomed me reflects the frankness of our discussions; but chiefly your own positive disposition towards strengthening the relationship between our two peoples and our countries, which go back centuries. It is a tradition that cannot be put into question, neither by some instances of divergence nor by differing viewpoints that may emerge at times; these, after all, will always occur and can be discussed.
For two centuries may have elapsed since Alexander Pushkin hailed the 1821 Greek revolution with his poem “Arise, o Greece” -among other works- and almost two centuries have passed since Ioannis Kapodistrias left his own special mark on politics in two countries, yet Greece maintains its presence here in Russia. Not only through the thousands, tens of thousands of Russian citizens of Greek descent who thrive and distinguish themselves, mainly here, in southern Russia -many are brothers of ours from the Pontus region, whose forefathers were uprooted from neighboring countries. But also through the dozens of young people who study the Greek language, the cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin-Grammatikopoulos who has visited the heavens five times, and another Teodor, the great musician Currentzis, who takes us all on a trip to the magical world of music.
So, Mr President, the relationship between Greece and Russia, Greeks and Russians, is a continuous and everlasting journey; therefore, it has a past and present, but also a future.
Mr President, let me thank you once more for your very generous hospitality and our very substantive talks.
The Prime Minister’s answers to journalists’ questions
Chrisanthos Koseloglou (ALPHA): The first part is addressed to President Putin. Mr President, Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and is responsible for the preservation of peace and stability, as well as respect for international law. I would like to ask what your assessment of the situation in the Aegean Sea is, specifically, but also in the Eastern Mediterranean, given the special relations you have with Turkey. And, Prime Minister, can you go through the aspects of Turkish aggressiveness that you discussed with President Putin and whether you agreed on some points. Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I had the opportunity to brief President Putin on the framework of Greco-Turkish differences. I would like, however, to underscore that these differences will be resolved between Greece and Turkey. The framework we have set is very clear and our differences, our most important difference, the delineation of maritime zones in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, can be solved only in the context of international law, the Law of the Sea.
Greece has proven that it has the ability to conclude delimitation agreements: it has done so with Italy, it has done so with Egypt. And our invitation to Turkey fully stands. At the same time, Greece will defend its sovereignty and its sovereign rights in every way.
I would like to say that I greatly appreciate the very clear stance that Russia has taken on the Cyprus issue; I believe Turkey should take this very seriously into consideration. Russia is, as a permanent member of the Security Council, a guarantor of stability, the application of international law and -first and foremost- the implementation of Security Council resolutions, which in the case of Cyprus are not open to misinterpretation.
Journalist (Interfax, based on the live interpretation): A question for both President Putin and Prime Minister Mitsotakis. Both of you appraised very positively the state of the bilateral relationship. Yet we all remember that Greece is a member of the European Union and NATO, two groupings that presently follow a highly confrontational policy towards Russia. Can this affect our relationship?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Greece has been a member of the European Union for 40 years, a member of NATO for many decades, and is obviously bound to the collective decisions that are made in these two supranational organizations. This, however, does not mean in any case that Greece does not maintain or pursue good bilateral relations with Russia. We had the opportunity, I believe, to discuss and outline a wide array of topics where we can strengthen our cooperation and which have no direct bearing on the wider issues pertaining to Russia’s relations with NATO or the European Union.
I hold onto what President Putin said. He kindly briefed me on the conference call he had with US President Joe Biden yesterday. I consider it a very positive development that a conversation took place, which lasted for quite some time. I wish there is a road map, a prospect of mutual de-escalation, for otherwise we will end up in a situation that will take us many decades back. I think no one seeks or wants such a thing, especially during critical periods, during eras when there are great difficulties, differing opinions, differing perspectives, and it is imperative to an even greater degree to keep communication channels open and talk frankly. Wherever we disagree, we should also disagree forthrightly. But, principally, we should make sure that we swiftly listen and understand the worries and concerns of the other side.