Greece calls for an end to 'vicious circle' of EU-Russia sanctions

Alexis Tsipras has hit out at Greece's portrayal as a 'debt colony' and outlined his hope of becoming 'a European hub for energy'.

By James O'Brien

09 Apr 2015

An agreement on the lifting of food imports has failed to emerge from bilateral talks between Greece and Russia in Moscow, but there was progress on exploring cooperation in the energy sector.

In a joint press conference following a three hour meeting, Russian president Vladimir Putin said Greek involvement in a Turkish natural gas pipeline "will make Greece one of the most important distributors" of energy in Europe.

While emphasising this is a Turkish-led project, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras said he was "very interested in increased investment" in the pipeline as he wants Greece "to be a European hub for energy", as well as ensuring the country can meet its energy supply needs.

Tsipras emphasised that, "Every EU member has a right to sign bilateral agreements in the energy sector".

"Nobody has a right to think we are illegal passengers on the boat [and] if we are thrown into the sea, we will wash up on the rocks" - Alexis Tsipras, Greek prime minister

The two leaders also unveiled plans for developing joint education and language promotion projects but much of the focus centred on trade sanctions imposed since the onset of the crisis in Ukraine.

Tsipras told the press conference that the "vicious circle of sanctions are nourishing a Cold War climate" and vowed "to act as an intermediary between Russia and Ukraine and Russia and the EU".

He added that sanctions "are not a viable solution" to the impasse and that Athens was of the view that it was "not useful to wage an economic war on Russia".

Last September, the EU imposed trading restrictions targeting Russian banks, the energy sector and the arms industry.

The outcome of the bilateral meeting was closely watched in Brussels as there had been much media speculation that the meeting could result in closer economic ties between the two nations.

However, Putin said, "Greece did not ask for financial assistance", while Tsipras added, "Greece is not a beggar asking different countries to solve its problems."

On the failure to lift the embargo on Greek food imports, Putin said Russia "cannot make any exceptions for any country in the European Union". Greece has been disproportionately affected by the embargo as 40 per cent of all exports go to Russia.

The Syriza leader again repeated previous statements that the debt crisis requires a "European solution to a European crisis".

Tsipras asserted that Greek problems are European problems and added, "nobody has a right to think we are illegal passengers on the boat [and] if we are thrown into the sea, we will wash up on the rocks".

The Greek prime minister also lambasted what he called "a certain kind of logic in the established media that we are a debt colony".

The statement comes ahead of a €458m repayment to the international monetary fund and among continued efforts to reach a deal on European central bank and European commission portions of Greek debt.

Asked if Russia was using Greece as a Trojan horse, Putin responded that just because Greece is "debt-ridden", this does not mean it cannot exercise an independent foreign policy and recalled that when the Cypriot economic crisis was at its height, "everyone was asking us to help".

The Russian premier expressed bewilderment at the level of attention the meeting received. Tsipras added that, "Greece is a sovereign state with a right to pursue a nuanced foreign policy in line with its geopolitical role as a European, Mediterranean and Balkan country."

Separately, relations between Athens and Berlin show no sign of thawing. The German government is seen as the biggest opponent to any write-down of Greek debt and Athens has announced it is seeking €278.8bn in war reparations from Germany.

The Angela Merkel-led government has described the compensation claim as "stupid" and said the issue was resolved when a payment of 115m deutschmarks was made to Athens in 1960.


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