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Tsipras and Putin agree closer ties at Moscow talks

Tsipras and Putin have put on a show of force in Moscow following talks, which have unnerved Brussels. The Kremlin meeting came at a time when Athens is dependent on international bailouts worth billions of euros.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday that the two countries would be fostering closer ties in the future.

The visit to Moscow by the Greek premier was seen as a bid to use ties with Russia as a bargaining platform or an exercise to build on their existing relationship.

In response to economic sanctions slapped on Russia by the EU over its alleged involvement with the Ukraine conflict, Moscow banned some food imports from the bloc, which had hit Greece hard.

But there was an optimistic message from Putin ahead of the talks: He told Tsipras that his visit was "very timely," and that they would discuss how to restore deals on trade, which had plunged 40 percent on the import ban.

No concrete word on lifting of import ban

At a press conference in the Kremlin, Putin said they had discussed in detail a Russian-Greek collaboration, and paid special attention to how they could "extend cooperation in bilateral trade."

Russia's leader also said the emphasis was on investment, energy supplies and security, with the possibility of Greece becoming a major energy hub for Europe.

However, Putin said that no concrete decisions had been made over Athens' participation in a new Turkish energy stream, which would see gas supplies piped under the Baltic Sea.

Elsewhere, they agreed that their countries had close cultural roots and that they would promote their respective languages, as well as boosting Russian tourism in Greece.

When it came to Tsipras' turn on the podium, he said it was an "important day for their relations, which had gone through the test of time, and joint struggles against the Nazis and fascism."

The Greek premier sent a sharp message to his EU counterparts in reference to warnings from some in Brussels over a revival of relations with Russia.

"Greece is a sovereign country," Tsipras said, and made it clear that they have the right to exercise foreign policy without the need for negotiations.

A bridge between Russia and the EU

Ukraine was also on the agenda, with both leaders expressing the need for peace and stability in the country's east.

Tsipras said there had been a revival of the Cold War logic and that Greece would aspire to actively contribute to the "creation of bridges" to enable dialogue between the EU and Russia.

The Moscow talks came as Tsipras was embroiled in negotiations to unblock a rescue package from the EU and International Monetary Fund.

Athens had been dependent on international bailouts worth 240 billion euros ($259,8 billion) since 2010 and will run out of funds within weeks unless it reaches a deal with creditors over a new installment.

Meanwhile, the Greek premier is scheduled to attend Victory Day celebrations in Moscow on May 9, marking the 70th anniversary of Russia's triumph over Nazi Germany in 1945.

Tsipras' decision to be present at the commemoration flies in the face of the majority of EU states, which had chosen to boycott the occasion over the Ukraine crisis.

On Tuesday, Germany's vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, described a call by Athens for more than 278 billion euros in World War II reparations as "dumb."

lw/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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