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Joint statements of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Venizelos and the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov (Athens, 30 October 2013)

Venizelos - Lavrov

E. VENIZELOS: It is a great pleasure to welcome to the Foreign Ministry our dear friend the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, a major figure in international diplomacy.

We had the opportunity, early this morning, to jointly declare the opening of a conference dedicated to the first Governor of the independent Greek state, Ioannis Kapodistrias; and also dedicated to the 185th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Greece and Russia.

Mr. Lavrov’s visit comes a few weeks after the visit to Athens of Ms. Matvienko, the President of the Russian Federal Council, and also a few weeks after the meeting we had within the framework of the UN General Assembly, in New York.

Today we reaffirmed, in a celebratory and authentic manner the close historical, spiritual, religious, cultural, political and economic ties that link Russia and Greece.

We are fully aware of how critical Russia’s international role is as a permanent member of the Security Council and as a factor influencing all the various issues of international policy.

We are particularly satisfied at the very close cooperation between the two countries in the framework of all the international organizations: the UN, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, BSEC, and, recently, in the framework of the World Trade Organization.

Our relationship is a strategic partnership. As I had the opportunity to say during my talks with my dear colleague and friend Sergey Lavrov, Greece is of course a member of the EU and an old member of NATO, but it also has a very strong sense of its historical participation in the great family of Orthodox peoples; our ties with the East are just as important as our ties with the West.

Greece is fully aware of all of its regional identities and attaches great importance to bilateral relations. Our meeting today took place a few months after the successful meeting of the Greek-Russian Joint Interministerial Committee of April 2013, and today we reaffirmed the conclusions of the JIC in many sectors – mainly sectors related to key investments in the energy sector.

The joint statements we signed today are not formal texts, but a solid, added legal basis for the momentum we want to impart to our bilateral relations. We will have the opportunity during our luncheon to discuss major pending international issues, on which we have converging views.

We put particular emphasis on our cooperation in the sectors of economy, trade, tourism, energy. We want Russia to have a strong presence in Greece through direct investments and through the privatization process. And we also had the opportunity to discuss a number of pending procedures and key programmes that will boost Greece’s real economy after six years of recession, after the severe crisis that the Greek people have experienced.

The tourism and energy sectors are always two privileged sectors in which there is much for us to do together.

Of course, there is always the defence dimension of our cooperation, on which we are also determined to put the necessary emphasis and take initiatives that will continue via the Russian Defence Minister’s upcoming visit to Greece.

We are drawing up a framework for cultural cooperation for the coming years, and we see as very important our signing today of the Joint Declaration on the year 2016 as the Year of Greece in Russia, and as the Year of Russia in Greece.

This is not a purely symbolic move, a move that is just cultural. The year 2016 is being pointed up as a major opportunity to make the strategic cooperation I referred to fully manifest.

My dear friend Sergey Lavrov and I also discussed the upcoming Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union. We want to put the greatest possible emphasis on the promotion of EU-Russian relations.

We want to move ahead to the shaping of a new, comprehensive agreement between the European Union and Russia. Our Joint Statement on mobility issues is, on a bilateral level, a move aimed, on the European level, at full implementation of the programme that has been planned for waiving visa requirements for Russian citizens.

As you can see, this is of particular importance to us, because the Russian market is of vital importance to the Greek tourism industry.

I had the opportunity to brief my Russian colleague on the situation in our wider region, the Western Balkans, Southeast Europe generally, and the Eastern Mediterranean. We had the opportunity to discuss the Cyprus issue in particular, as well as the issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The level of our relations is historically excellent. This is not a rhetorical observation. It is a practical conclusion that we reaffirmed today, and I want to thank Sergey Lavrov publicly for his personal contribution to shaping this new momentum in Greek-Russian relations.

My dear Sergey, I welcome  you to Athens, and I wish you the greatest possible success in your mission, in the mission of the government of the Russian Federation, and of course in the promotion of our bilateral relations.

S. LAVROV (translation of the transcribed Greek oral translation): My dear ladies and gentlemen, first of all I would like to express my sincere thanks to Mr. Evangelos Venizelos and to all of the Greeks who hosted us here, for the hospitality they are showing our delegation.

Russia and Greece are linked by strong ties of friendship, mutual respect, trust, and this is a hopeful foundation for the further development of constructive cooperation, both on a bilateral level in all of the sectors of communication between the two states, as well as on the regional and international levels.

This finding is fully reaffirmed today, once again, as the result of the talks our delegation had with the President, Mr. Papoulias, with Prime Minister Samaras, and in the course of the talks we just completed with my colleague on all the issues on the agenda.

We are satisfied at the fact that Russian-Greek relations are gaining positive momentum in all directions. The political dialogue is being activated, contacts between the Ministries and other services and agencies – including the Foreign Ministry – are being strengthened.

This is also reaffirmed by the programme of consultations between the two Foreign Ministries, as well as for the period 2014-2016. We have a three-year perspective with our Greek colleagues, a fact that is borne out by the depth of our confidential relations as regards the level of foreign policy relations.

Economic and trade cooperation is developing well. Last year we had an all-time record of $6.5 billion in commercial transactions. This year, the upward trend in transactions is continuing, and this is a result of the successful work of the Russian-Greek JIC on economic, industrial and scientific/technological cooperation.

This committee met in April and took a number of important decisions, and today, with the negotiations we had with the Greek leadership, we talked about the plans for further increasing our cooperation – as Mr. Venizelos mentioned – bearing in mind the privatization process being carried out by the Greek government, and bearing in mind the interest being shown in mutual cooperation between Greek and Russian enterprises.

It is my hope that the further deepening of our economic partnership will truly contribute to the fulfillment of the duties the Greek government has undertaken to overcome the crisis, and we fully support the Greek government’s resolve to ensure stability and sustainable growth for Greece. This is in our common interest, bearing in mind the role Greece plays in the Balkans and in Europe as a whole.

The relations between our citizens, the cooperation and contacts between cultural and educational agencies are an exceptionally important component of our ties, and it is particularly pleasing that over 1 million Russian citizens visited Greece, with an upward trend. So bearing in mind the three-year programme on cooperation in the tourism sector, this will contribute further to boosting these indicators.

Today we signed a Joint Statement declaring 2016 the Year of Russia in Greece, and the Year of Greece in Russia, promoting specific programmes for events within the framework of this extremely important event in our relations, and we are convinced that these events will stimulate the vibrant and broad interest of our citizens in Russia and in Greece.

We discussed international issues, including the state of affairs in the countries of the Arab Spring. We paid special attention to Syria, we looked at the prospects for the settlement of the Middle East issue, the Iranian nuclear programme, based on the latest developments – developments we would like to see further promoted. We looked at the Cyprus issue, where there are also grounds for some optimism, albeit cautious optimism.

Southeast Europe, as a region, is extremely important to the developments on the rest of our continent. With our Greek collocutors we expressed our mutual interest in ensuring regional stability – in mutually beneficial and constructive relations between all Balkan states.

Greece will hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2014, and as such we looked at Russian-EU issues, bearing in mind this very important factor.

We greatly appreciate the determination of our Greek friends to promote Russian-EU relations on the agenda in the coming time, and this concerns first and foremost the problem of the issuing of entry visas, with the prospect of further liberalization of the procedure, and the ideal being the complete waiving of the visa requirement.

And it also concerns the reopening of the negotiations – which stalled through no fault of our own – on the agreement on the foundation of Russian-EU cooperation, so that it can culminate in a new partnership with new, practical content for the modernization of the relations between Russia and the European Union.

Greece’s consistent stance on the prospect of waiving the visa requirement between Russia and the European Union is expressed in the joint statement we have on the programme for mobility issues. We hope other European capitals will also respond to this, and we express our stance for the continuation of the mutually beneficial work in the context of the Russia-NATO Council.Much is being done in the fight against terrorism, narcotics, piracy. But it is extremely important that we impart strategic depth to this cooperation – particularly, as well, on the problem of anti-ballistic defence, which unfortunately has not diminished as a problem for the time being – as well as to the overall foundation of our relations within the framework of this Council.

An equal relationship of this kind for the organization of relations on the European continent was expressed by the great Greek and Russian Ioannis Kapodistrias, whose taking on of the governorship of Greece we commemorate today, and we discussed this earlier today at the conference dedicated to the 180 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries.

And everyone who was at that conference obviously felt the sincere and mutual desire of Russians and Greeks, these invaluable traditions of intellectual proximity, the common struggle for independence and freedom, multiplying and gaining strength and being passed on to coming generations.

I am convinced that that is how things will be, and of course I want to express my thanks to our Greek colleagues for the hospitality and cooperation they have shown us.

F. PAPATHANSIOU (Greek Public Television): Mr. Lavrov, Greek-Russian relations have gone through many fluctuations, particularly over the past 4 years, culminating in the recent statement from President Putin that Greece is a problematic country for investments.

So I would like you to clarify how Moscow sees Greece in the sector of investments and privatizations, and I want you to tell me what you expect – apart from you presence here, naturally, which certainly marks a warming of the climate – in terms of tangible results that will mark the real improvement in bilateral relations.

S. LAVROV: For an agreement to be achieved between the economic actors, between the enterprises, Greek and Russian, with the participation of the official authorities of the Hellenic Republic, with agreements that will ensure precisely the security of investments. This is the completely natural response.

The contacts have never stopped. There is mutual interest in our agreeing in the framework of the terms of the privatizations. It is difficult to foresee how this process will be further promoted. The willingness for effective cooperation has been expressed by both sides. There need to be mutually beneficial agreements that express the interests of the Greek side and of the investors.

E. VENIZELOS: Following on precisely from what Sergey Lavrov said, our mission is to shape a stable and clear political framework. To phrase the political will of the two governments so that major business initiatives can be taken – Russian in Greece, and Greek in Russia – by both the public and private sectors.

This is what we want, this is what we are pursuing. The privatization process is open, but there isn’t just that. Greece is fertile ground for foreign direct investments. There are Russian companies that are already present here, and we want them to be here – we welcome them and support them. We welcome the Russian tourist, who honors our country, and of course we want Greek businesses – agricultural products, construction companies – to be present in the Russian market.

That is the message we wanted to send today, and that is the message we are sending, as a joint political stance of the two governments.

A. AMELYUSHKIN (Russia Today): I have a question for both Ministers. You mentioned that you talked about the Syrian issue. How close are the Russian and Greek positions are regarding exiting the crisis?

Mr. Lavrov will be aware that the Syrian free army is alleging that Russia, Iran and other countries are responsible for undermining things in Syria. Thank you.

S. LAVROV: Regarding the issue of Greece and Russia, I see that our positions coincide in principle. Both countries are interested in this or any other crisis being settled peacefully, without the use of violence, without the violation of the UN Charter, through the strengthening of the central role of the UN Security Council, which is taking place.

Regarding the situation in Syria, only if everyone sincerely complies with the agreements that have been achieved – achievements that concern Syria’s chemical disarmament, and everyone admits that this agreement is moving ahead extremely effectively – can peace come to the region. We hope that there won’t be provocations and efforts to interrupt this process.

Once again, we call on all those who can take part in such an endeavor, and particularly those who can influence people, not to allow this process of destroying the whole chemical arsenal to be stopped.

With regard to Geneva II, the situation is somewhat more complicated. Open objections have now arisen to the implementation of this Russian-U.S. initiative, and not just on the part of various Syrian sides, but on the part of certain capitals in neighboring countries and further afield.

Practically speaking, we cannot hide the fact that this negative stance on the Russian-American initiative is based on the failure of the U.S. to carry out a strike on Syria. In other words, they cannot hide their feelings; they being those who were pursuing regime change through military operations, so that – intentionally or unintentionally – an extremist state would be created there.

There can be no other outcome in such a case, and this is a fact that is a threat to all those living in Syria and in the region as a whole.

It is surprising that these people cannot hide their feelings. It is surprising that in the face of such declarations there should be what I would call a laidback reaction from the western capitals, but our line nevertheless remains unchanged.

The joint communique of Geneva, from July of last year up until now, is seen as the only realistic existing basis for a settlement. Now that the Russian-American initiative for convening a conference on the practical implementation of this joint communique is passing into a practical phase, the sincere, real positions are starting to be expressed – even of those who said they were supposedly favorably disposed.

We should not let this initiative lose momentum. There are Russian-American meetings that concern the preparation of the conference in question. Mr. Brahimi will be in these consultations, and we have to look at the parameters delineated for these consultations and this conference of various interested countries.

E. VENIZELOS: Today is an opportunity for me to publicly reiterate my congratulations on the recent joint initiative of Russia and the U.S. These congratulations are addressed personally to Sergey Lavrov, so that the Syrian chemical arsenal can be put under international control. We are particularly pleased because, following the Security Council decision, this process is moving ahead satisfactorily.

A solution to the Syrian problem – which is a humanitarian tragedy – can come only politically, only through a Geneva II-type process. All of the countries of the United Nations have an obligation to support this process in every way, and all the players in Syria have an obligation to accept this process and cooperate. This goes for the Assad government and the opposition. No group participating in the Syrian opposition has the right to react against, to refuse or to undermine the Geneva II process in practice.

Our position, which is in line with the European stance, is very clear. We believe that this is the only process; we believe that everyone has an obligation to participate in good faith and to support the process.

A. PELONI (Ta Nea): A question for Mr. Lavrov .

Mr. Minister, you referred earlier, if I’m not mistaken, to the diplomatic relations between the two countries, which are close, but you noted that they shouldn’t be impacted by the political state of affairs.

Were you hinting that the position of Greek governments or the stance on Greek-Russian issues was not stable throughout recent years, and, if so, was this one of the reasons you hadn’t visited Athens until now?

And on this subject, I would like you to say a few words about the Gazprom-DEFA deal falling through – whether you think this happened in the framework of a political decision, and whether it casts a shadow on bilateral relations.

S. LAVROV: Every people, not just the Greek people, has my sincere wishes for stability. I don’t think there is any country that would want to develop into a state of instability, and we take no pleasure in what is taking place in many European countries in the context of the Eurozone crisis.

The European Union is our biggest economic partner, accounting for precisely half of our trade transactions. Thus, the crisis-related phenomena in the Eurozone countries are not in our interest. And that is why it is my wish – that is why we want to have further stable development throughout the European Union and in Greece itself and in our own country. That’s my response to the first part of your question.

As for the situation with the privatization-related business actions, I do not want to comment, and I cannot comment, on matters that concern the Greek government and the corresponding Russian and Greek companies. When they reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial, it will be announced. If there is no such agreement for the time being, it means it is a process that is under way.

E. VENIZELOS: You will allow me to add something to what my dear colleague Mr. Lavrov said.

Greek-Russian political and diplomatic relations were, are and will be excellent. Our good relationship with the Russian Federation is a strategic priority and choice for us. We fully perceive Russia’s critical role, its magnitude. We have such a deep relationship that it cannot be impacted by any given state of affairs. This is a national strategy for us, and we reaffirmed this today.

Now, as for the privatization process – and more specifically in the energy sector and the DEPA issue – it is obvious that these processes are governed by a framework that is not just national, but European as well.

We want the processes to be open, credible, fast. And of course the participation of Russian companies, whether state or private, in these procedures is very important to us. It is a vote of confidence from Russia and the Russian economy in Greece and in Greek-Russian economic and commercial cooperation.

We believe that a framework can be shaped – there is such a framework, that is, to be more precise – that allows us to be optimistic about the future. Of course, all of this has to be worked out, and it is not within our competencies, the competencies of governments, to work these issues out. They have to be worked out through the market, but in a transparent and institutionally organized manner. I think we are in full agreement on this with the Russian government and with my Russian counterpart.

Y. CHERNENKO (Коммерсантъ): The information concerning the Snowden documents and the U.S. Secret Service’s having eavesdropped on various persons throughout the world, including  heads of state, is getting more and more media attention.

I would like to ask whether it is that case that there was tapping and monitoring of conversations of Greek leaders, and this of course concerns your allies from the U.S. What is your take on the statement that “the U.S. is not doing anything that other countries aren’t doing as well.” How does Russia confront such activities? Are you aware of Russia’s doing anything in this direction? Thank you.

E. VENIZELOS: We are following what is being said in the international news media and on the internet regarding this issue.

We raised the issue with the U.S. government from the very outset, and our discussion with the U.S. administration is open, in good faith, and aimed at shaping an international framework that is transparent and governed by rules of legality. Of course, to a very great extent, this matter is being dealt with on the level of EU-U.S. relations.

A joint working group has been set up for some months now, and a Greek representative is participating due to the upcoming Greek Presidency, and that joint working group is in contact with the corresponding U.S. team.

Beyond that, it is obvious that between friends and allies, as well as between all the member states of the international community, there have to be simple, practical rules. Diplomatic deontology and international law have to be respected. This is still more the case between friends and allies.

S. LAVROV: I believe that the comments on this issue no longer surprise anyone. I am convinced that everyone knew everything or that they could have surmised what was going on. It’s just that now there is such fear, because public reference is being made to a fact that isn’t usually discussed.

There are obviously other issues that are raised in this sense, and that is why we have a sufficiently philosophical stance, and I understand all of the hypocrisy of the statement that “we aren’t doing anything that everyone else isn’t doing.”

Thank you.

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