Mr President, dear Volodymyr, it is with great pleasure that I welcome you today in Athens.
You are well aware, Mr. President, that Greece has been on the side of Ukraine from the very first moment, supporting your struggle to defend your territorial integrity and national sovereignty. I assure you that we will continue doing so, however long it takes to achieve this sacred goal.
We will stand by your government and your heroic people, who have been suffering the consequences of an illegal invasion for 18 months. And yet with high spirits, with extraordinary courage, they are resisting, fighting for their freedom and for their independence.
I have said it before: the Ukrainians, women and men, are an inspiration to all democratic citizens in Europe. Because standing alongside you is for us a matter of principle. For my country, no attempt to redraw defined borders using military force can be tolerated.
Therefore, there is no chance that we will ever recognise the illegal annexation of parts of Ukraine, something Russia is attempting to impose by force of arms. This is a stance which is in line with long-standing Greek interests, because our own country has also, occasionally in the past, been confronted with manifestations of unhistorical revisionism and aggressive authoritarianism. We therefore, in principle, stand against any violation of International Law and any illegal occupation fait accompli. After all, something similar is unfortunately still happening in Cyprus.
But we are also on your side because our peoples are linked by long-standing historical ties. Citizens of Greek origin have lived peacefully for centuries, for millennia, on the shores of the Black Sea, prospering and contributing to your country. That is why no one forgets the crimes against the martyred city of Mariupol, which not only has a Greek name, but also Greek blood flowing in many of its inhabitants.
The same of course applies to Odessa, the birthplace of the Filiki Etairia (Society of Friends), which illuminated the Greek Revolution, as well as to Kiev and so many areas of your country that continue to be raided, with thousands of civilians being targeted every day.
We unequivocally condemn these war crimes committed within Ukrainian territory, crimes which should be punished by international justice.
Mr President, the ordeal of your people was accompanied in its own way by the ordeal of many European societies and our country, as Moscow weaponized natural gas, causing an international energy crisis and an inflationary crisis. While recently, it tragically terminated the Black Sea Grain Initiative, adding global prices and global food supply to its arsenal.
Therefore, it is clear that the consequences of this war do not stop at the borders of our continent. They affect our entire planet. That is why this practice must be condemned. The agreement must enter into force immediately. Moreover, Athens has made a significant contribution to this agreement, because – as we have had the opportunity to discuss – 50%, more than 50% of Ukrainian grain is exported via ships of Greek interests. This is, as I said at the beginning, a consistent and continuous stance.
I would like to remind you that Greece is applying all the European sanctions against Moscow, despite the impact that this has on our economy. Just as we have supported and continue to support the granting of candidate status for EU membership to Ukraine.
I reiterate today our readiness to assist you on your European path and we have recently acceded to the joint statement of the G7 leaders on security commitments to your state, while we have just signed a joint statement on Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic path. And this is further tangible proof that we are partners and supporters. After all, our solidarity, both humanitarian and defensive, has been practical from the outset and, as we have discussed, will continue.
The port of Alexandroupolis is already a hub for the dispatch of allied aid, highlighting a distinct geopolitical importance for Ukraine, but also for the entire eastern flank of NATO. From there a new energy corridor begins that connects the north with the south, the south with the north. So that Alexandroupolis will soon constitute a new gateway for natural gas. This will cover not only our own national needs, but also the needs of many Balkan countries, Eastern European countries, and, why not, Ukraine.
And in this respect, your presence here today has a special significance, with Athens becoming a meeting point for all the leaders of the region, but also for the leadership of the European Union.
20 years after the Declaration of Thessaloniki, the initiative for the European perspective of the Western Balkans is being upgraded. Greece has always unconditionally supported and continues to support their accession to the European family. At the same time, however, it also sends a clear message: it is a path which inevitably goes through their adaptation to the EU acquis, the respect for International Law, democratic rights and, of course, the rule of law.
Finally, as I stressed in our discussion, Mr. President, Greece will also be present in the titanic effort to reconstruct and rebuild your country, taking advantage of our great experience in the construction sector, through public-private partnerships, by making available its strengths in the fields of digitization, health, the restoration of cultural monuments, with emphasis, as we have discussed, especially in Odessa, whose historical centre, as you know, with the support of my country, has been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While we had the opportunity to discuss today how we can more methodically assist in the security and reconstruction of this city, which is so closely linked to the history of both our countries.
Honorable President Zelenskyy, dear Volodymyr, I would like, once again, to welcome you to Athens. I am sure that this close cooperation will continue – I hope soon – with a free and peaceful Ukraine. And remember the words of my compatriot, the great writer Nikos Kazantzakis: “Don’t be tempted to ask, ‘Will we win? Will we be defeated?’ Fight, because stone, iron and steel will not endure. Man endures.” And you, Ukrainians, endure.
Welcome, again, dear Volodymyr, to Athens.