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Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ statements following his meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov (Moscow, 6 November 2019)
“I am pleased that I had the opportunity today to meet with my colleague the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov.
[In Russian]: This is my first visit to Moscow as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and I would like to thank you for your warm hospitality.
Our bilateral relations are founded on longstanding ties of friendship, mutual respect and understanding. In this context, I expect my visit today to mark the beginning of a new chapter in our bilateral relations – a chapter based on sincere dialogue and regular communication on issues of mutual interest. And I am very satisfied that Sergey Lavrov and I signed the 2020-2022 Programme of Greek-Russian Consultations, which provides for regular meetings on the official and political levels.
Today Mr. Lavrov and I exchanged views on a broad range of issues.
We talked about our bilateral relations, the expansion of political and cultural relations, and the prospects for upgrading our economic cooperation. What we want to do is promote the sectors in which there are opportunities for growth, despite the framework of sanctions in effect.
Greece’s economic recovery and the new institutional framework the Hellenic Parliament passed have made Greece a very attractive destination for investments. So, we invite Russian investors to look at the investment opportunities in the Greek economy.
Especially in the energy sector, we think there are prospects for further deepening of bilateral cooperation. We welcome the synergies that have been developed between Greek and Russian companies, first and foremost in the natural gas sector, and at the same time we are interested in enhancing our cooperation in other fields, such as renewable energy sources.
I also briefed Mr. Lavrov on the situation in Greece with regard to the global issue of migration and the risks this situation carries. Greece has always underscored that it is unacceptable when the misery of thousands of people is used as a tool for exerting influence and exercising policy.
We also talked about the recent developments in our wider region, the situation in Syria, in the Balkans, in Ukraine, and in the Eastern Mediterranean, where we are dealing with a steady escalation in Turkey’s violations of international legality.
We also raised the Cyprus problem, underscoring the importance of reopening the negotiation process and expressing our support for the relevant efforts currently being made by UN Secretary General Gutteres towards a settlement based on the resolutions of the UN Security Council.
Russia is a powerful country with a substantial and firm presence in Southeast Europe and the Middle East, where many developments are taking place that impact my country.
Greece is situated at a geopolitical crossroads and, as such, has long recognized that Russia must be part of the European security architecture.
For these reasons, and given Greece’s position as an old member state of the EU and NATO, we want to make a positive contribution to the dialogue with Russia. We want to develop our relations further, with a view to maintaining regional stability and strengthening security, especially in the current fragile state of affairs.
Concluding, I would like to thank Mr. Lavrov once again for the constructive dialogue and for his hospitality, which I look forward to reciprocating in the near future.
[In Russian]: Thank you.”
JOURNALIST: In your interview with Ria Novosti, Mr. Dendias, you talked about the need to improve the dialogue between the EU and Russia, as many countries, mainly Greece, are suffering from the sanctions. What specific measures will Greece take to enhance cooperation with Russia? Do you intend to support the lifting of the sanctions? Thank you very much.
N. DENDIAS: Thank you for the question. I did in fact take a stance in favour of improving the dialogue between the EU and the Russian Federation, and I really would like to say that the phrasing was inadequate, because we are not just in favour of improving this dialogue, but also in favour of expanding and deepening it.
As you know, Greece is one of the oldest members of NATO and the European Union. It is also a country that went through a decade of deep crisis, in which it lost some 25-30% of its GDP. This necessarily led to Greece’s focusing mainly on domestic issues for a number of years. Mainly on the effort to overcome the crisis.
But now, as the country is emerging from the crisis and once again growing at a significant rate, it is returning to the international scene. It is activating its role – its important role, due to its geographical position – as a member of NATO, as a member of the European Union, along with its position in other international organizations, such as the Council of Europe, of which it will be assuming the presidency next year.
Given Greece’s foreign policy firm stance that Russia is part of the European security architecture, Greece is in a position to be very useful to Russia – if Russia agrees – in the creation of the necessary understanding, the resolution of existing differences, in reaching an understanding on the measures that need to be taken so that we can move ahead to comprehensive normalisation, wherever necessary, and overcome unpleasant realities by eliminating their causes.
So, I hope that my presence here today and Mr. Lavrov’s future visit to Athens – along with a number of more and more frequent contacts between the two countries’ officials – will help in this direction.
JOURNALIST: Good afternoon. The question is for both ministers: As Mr. Dendias said, you discussed the Ukraine issue. A related matter is the Church issue. About a month ago, the Church of Greece recognised the autocephalous Church of Ukraine – or the schismatic Church of Ukraine, as the Russian Patriarchate calls it. Do you think this decision resulted from political pressure, and what impact might the ecclesiastical dispute have on bilateral relations?
N. DENDIAS: I’d like to thank you for the question and the opportunity you give me, because I see that the issue is of concern to Russian public opinion. And I would also like to thank Minister Lavrov, who reiterated what we said about this issue in our one-on-one meeting. In other words, that this issue is not a hindrance to dialogue, to the deepening and broadening of the relations between Greece and Russia. Allow me to say something on a personal note: as you may know, I come from a long line of priests on my mother’s side – 17 generations, I think – which has made me a careful reader of the Gospels. So, in the context of the Orthodox faith, I clearly remember Christ’s response, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.” So, in this framework, the current Greek State fully respects the role and autonomy of the Church of Greece and its discrete role. And as an obvious consequence of this, of course, it does not intervene in church affairs. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: A question from TASS – whether your talks covered possible visits by officials of the new Greek government to Russia, and by this we mean the invitation sent by the President of Russia to the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Mitsotakis, to visit Russia in May 2020 to participate in the 75th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. Regarding the Russian Foreign Minister’s visit to Greece, whether there is already a date. Regarding the Alexander Vinnik affair – this question is for the Greek Minister – what is holding up the Alexander Vinnik case? Whether there is any American influence in this case. And for the Russian Minister, what is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs doing to bring him back to Russia?
N. DENDIAS: Thank you for both questions. I’ll start with the Vinnik affair. Mr. Lavrov did in fact explain to me the Russian side’s special interest in this specific case. And he was kind enough to set out a number of legal arguments in support of the Russian position on this case. I think we all understand that, within the institutional framework in effect in our country, it is up to the Greek Judiciary to decide on this issue. I fully understand the Russian side’s interest, and beyond that I imagine that the Greek Judiciary will respond as it must and within a reasonable and relatively short time, in accordance with the country’s laws and the international treaties.
With regard to the visits, first of all I will convey the invitation for the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to attend the events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the victory in World War II. Greece also paid a terrible price in human lives during World War II. I want you to know that, of a population of some 7.5 million, 1.5 million Greek lives were lost during World War II. In absolute numbers, this may be much lower, but as a percentage of the population it is almost the same as the great sacrifices suffered by the Russian people during the Great Patriotic War. So, Greece fully understands the role Russia played in the victory in World War II, and we would be very pleased to have our Prime Minister here during these commemorative events. So, I will convey the honour of this invitation, which we interpret as recognition of the great sacrifices the Greek people, too, suffered during the Second World War.
I would like to take this opportunity to say that Greece will be celebrating the bicentennial of its independence, of the Greek modern state, in 2021. Russia played an important role in the achievement of this independence. Beyond the long series of contacts, the victory in the Battle of Navarino, in which a squadron of the Russian Navy participated, under Admiral Heiden, was an important contribution to ending the Greek War of Independence and to the recognition of Greek independence. And I think it is absolutely appropriate and a show of modern Greece’s gratitude that Russia should participate in these celebratory events. Therefore, allow me to say, dear Minister, that, when the time comes, a relevant invitation will be sent to President Putin and yourself.
Thank you very much.