Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow yesterday as part of an eye-catching visit that has fueled EU fears that cash-strapped Athens is cosying up to Russia.
The two-day trip comes as Tsipras is battling to unblock a rescue package from the EU and IMF, with some in Brussels warning against any move to barter financial support from Moscow for political backing over the Ukraine crisis.
However, analysts say that while the visit might see Moscow lift an embargo on Greek fruit, overall it is more about political grandstanding aimed at pressuring Europe, rather than a serious shift in policy.
Tsipras, a former communist who came to power in January, has made no secret of seeking closer ties to Russia at a time when Moscow is at loggerheads with the EU over the conflict in Ukraine.
The Greek prime minister — who traveled to Moscow last year prior to his election win — is taking part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin ahead of his sit-down with Putin.
A number of Greek officials have broached the prospect of Athens turning to Russia or China for financial assistance if loan talks with the EU end in failure.
Germany on Tuesday angrily labeled a call by Athens for more than 278 billion euros (US$300 billion) in World War II reparations as “dumb.”
Ahead of the trip, Tsipras once again rattled the EU’s already shaky stance over Ukraine by lashing out at Western sanctions against Moscow as “a road to nowhere.”
“We do not agree with sanctions,” Tsipras told Russian state news agency TASS. “I support the point of view that there is a need for a dialogue and diplomacy, we should sit down at the negotiating table and find the solutions to major problems.”
Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov yesterday said that Moscow wanted to see all EU countries make choices according to their own “national interests” and not “false principles of solidarity.”
Both sides have talked up the possibility of closer economic ties between the two Christian Orthodox nations ahead of the visit — set to be followed by another trip to Moscow for Tsipras for World War II victory anniversary commemorations next month.
Prominent among the issues on the agenda is gas.
However, while both sides make positive noises, there appears no chance of Russia — battling an economic crisis of its own — stepping in with major financial aid.
“There is no question of Greece receiving any money to plug its holes,” Russian foreign affairs expert Fyodor Lukyanov said.
However, Moscow could well decide to revoke a painful embargo on fruit — imposed as part of a wider ban on Western products in response to sanctions over Ukraine — that has bruised Greece’s agricultural sector.
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