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Statements of Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias following his meeting with his Russian Federation counterpart, Sergey Lavrov (Moscow, 13 June 2018)
N. KOTZIAS: I thank my counterpart very much for the invitation to visit Moscow. We hope to experience a wonderful World Cup in your country. We confirmed the invitation for my counterpart to come to Athens in September so we can prepare the Greek Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow. We discussed the further development of our bilateral relations on matters of economy, culture, education and other issues. We also put forward particular thoughts on further developing the cooperation between the two Ministries and their Directorates.
We talked about the problems in our region, in Southeast Europe, in the Middle East, in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. What is of special interest to us is Russia-EU and Russia-NATO relations. We talked, and we have to talk further, about how we can overcome the existing problems, overcome the stereotypes and prejudices that exist in a number of regional and international organizations.
And of course, in the context of the discussion of NATO’s and the EU’s relations with Russia, we talked about Ukraine. As you know, in Ukraine, and particularly in the Mariupol area, there are 160,000 Ukrainians of Greek origin. They have a centuries-long presence there, and this is of special interest to us. Finally, we talked about the issues of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. I thanked the Minister –and I also want to do so publicly– for Russia’s stance on the Cyprus issue, and we talked about the developments in Syria and Iraq. Greece is not part of the problem, but it is a country that feels the repercussions of what is happening in the region. This is why we support anything that can stabilize the region and lead to a better future.
Sergey, thank you again for the invitation and for our talks.
JOURNALIST: Following the Skopje issue, how do you see geostrategic and geopolitical relations taking shape in the wider Balkan region?
N. KOTZIAS: I think it is diplomacy’s duty to solve problems. Our government’s foreign policy is proactive, democratic and multidimensional. In this context, we resolved an issue that has existed formally for 25 years now, and in reality for at least 70 years: how to stop the dispute over the problem of North Macedonia’s name. It is a small part of the region’s culture to fight over names. So if the grandfathers in a given family don’t have the same name, there will be trouble. There were also issues of irredentism, of course, which this agreement puts an end to. We are also in the process of resolving issues that have been pending with Albania anywhere from 30 to 80 years. Before I go on holiday, I will have finished with this. Otherwise, no holiday.
I also hope we will reopen the Cyprus issue – in the right way – and resolve that as well. This is a more difficult issue than the other two I mentioned, because in those two we were the larger party and we were determined to resolve the issues. I think our region will become more peaceful. Our country is located in a difficult geopolitical region, between many crises – Ukraine, Libya, Syria, Iraq – in this triangle of instability. Now that we are emerging from the economic crisis, we believe that stability in the Balkans can help us grow all together.
We have a very dear poet in Greece: Cavafy. He wrote a poem entitled “Waiting for the Barbarians,” and it says that in the agora, when they were told that the barbarians wouldn’t be coming, some people were worried and said: “Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”
I am pleased that we are solving problems, but I know there are some people who are asking: “Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?” These are people who have made problems their ‘profession’. Thank you.