Putin begins Greek visit at 'crucial time'
'Close cooperation between Russia, the US and EU to end the war in Syria is exceptionally important,' says Greek president
A high-powered delegation from Russia, headed by President Vladimir Putin, arrived in Greece on Friday to sign a range of cooperation deals with Athens in a sign of increasing ties between the two states.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met Putin during the official visit which is being held amid tight security.
Police deployed 2,500 officers ahead of the two-day trip by the Russian president, closing all main streets leading to the center of the Greek capital.
Accompanied by a large delegation of businesspeople, including several Russian ministers and the CEOs of energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft, Putin was welcomed by Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos.
Putin later met Tsipras at Maximos Mansion where, after a marathon closed-door meeting between the two officials, talks continued between the two delegations.
The two sides signed a range of economic, energy and education cooperation agreements plus a political declaration for Greek-Russian dialogue on international and regional issues of mutual interest.
Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) also signed a memorandum of cooperation to obtain crude from Russian oil giant Rosneft.
During a joint news conference broadcast on domestic television, Putin said that he had a meaningful meeting with the Greek side.
Asked how Turkish-Russian relations might be normalized, Putin said: “Even now I cannot understand why they did it [downed a Russian fighter jet last November].”
He added: "Our forces are not fighting in Syria against normal regular forces but against formations and we never thought that the Turkish … could shoot our own aircraft.”
The Russian leader also claimed he had not received any explanation from Turkey’s leadership.
“We heard,” he continued, “that there is a desire to restore our relations and we also have such a desire. We will do our utmost to bring Russian-Turkish relations to a very high level, emphasizing that desire and statements are not enough for the restoration of relations.
“We still wait for explanations. Still there are none.”
Tsipras stated that Putin’s visit to Greece, after many years, is the culmination of a series of contacts and meetings at a high level which marked the restart of the two countries' relations.
On Saturday Putin will depart for Thessaloniki, where he will meet Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias. Putin will then make a pilgrimage to on Orthodox monastery on Mt. Athos, where there will be an official reception by President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.