Tsipras is in Russia to discuss a series of proposed economic projects, and Vladimir Putin took the opportunity to give him the historic icon, which was stolen by the Nazis during their occupation of Greece. The gift is a sign of growing friendship between the two nations that is worrying international creditors, according to the Associated Press.
Putin and Tsipras: a friendship that worries Greek creditors
Greece’s financial creditors are increasingly concerned by Tsipras visit to Russia, and speculation is rife that Greece may seek aid from Moscow to use as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Western creditors.
The icon depicts St. Nicholas and St. Spyridon, and Putin presented it to Tsipras following a round of talks at the Kremlin on Wednesday. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the icon was stolen by a Nazi officer during World War Two, and was bought from the officer’s descendants by an unidentified Russian man.
Relations between Greece and Russia appear to be strengthening after Tsipras confirmed his opposition to Western sanctions on Russia. He claimed that the Greek government helped block European proposals to increase the scope of the sanctions.
Joint economic initiatives
“Greece could become a bridge between the EU and Russia,” Tsipras said. Later, both he and Putin rejected claims that their blossoming friendship was an attempt to weaken the European Union’s united effort to oppose Russian activities in Ukraine.
Last year Russia blocked imports of Western food in retaliation for EU sanctions, but now Tsipras says that he and Putin have negotiated the resumption of Greek agricultural exports. Putin claims that a series of joint ventures could enable Greece to export food to Russia.
Increasing Russian involvement in Greece is sure to spook creditors, who may see their hand weakened by potential aid from Moscow. Tsipras confirmed that the two nations will analyze the possibility of extending a Russian gas pipeline to Greece, as well as working to enable greater participation of Russian companies in the privatization of Greek industry.
It is not difficult to foresee Putin using Greece as a way of striking back against the EU and causing divisions within the organization.