ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first trip to a European Union country this year Friday with a visit to Greece that will include a stop at a secluded Christian Orthodox monastic sanctuary.
Under heavy security, Putin arrived for a two-day visit expected to focus on energy cooperation and Russian investments during talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Athens is keen to maintain its traditionally close ties with post-Soviet Russia, despite its participation in European Union sanctions against Moscow, and a gas pipeline project designed to limit Russia’s regional energy dominance.
“These are difficult times for everyone — in terms of the economy and international security,” Putin said as he visited Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
“We must examine these problems and look for a solution. It is not a coincidence that an opportunity for this has arisen in Greece — a country with which we have deep and historic ties,” he said.
Putin traveled to Greece with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and top executives from state oil and gas companies. He was met at Athens Airport by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos as air force F-16s buzzed overhead as part of a welcoming ceremony.
Russia is one of Greece’s main trading partners, but business has been hit by the sanctions and drop in commodity prices.
Greece is also keen to reverse a slump in tourist arrivals from Russia last year.
“This will be the first time Putin has visited an EU country in the past six months and Russia-EU relations will be definitely on the agenda,” said Alexander Kokcharov of the U.S.-based IHS Country Risk group.
“Putin is likely to offer investment projects in Greece, most likely in energy and transport sectors. However, we do not expect that Greece would go against the EU consensus.”
Some 2,500 police will provide security for Putin’s visit in Athens, and much of the city center will be blocked to motorists and public transport.
On Saturday, Putin will visit the Monastery of St. Panteleimon, which is inhabited by Russian monks. It’s set in the 1,000-year-old Mount Athos autonomous monastic community, from which women are banned.
He will be accompanied by the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who arrived in northern Greece on Friday.
Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Costas Kantouris in Mount Athos contributed.
Follow Gatopoulos at http://www.twitter.com/dgatopoulos Vasilyeva at http://twitter.com/NatVasilyevaAP and Kantouris at http://twitter.com/CostasKantouris
European Union fact sheet on sanctions against Russia: http://ow.ly/XsNX300E9Mi