Putin says EU needs Russia to stay on global stage

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Putin says EU needs Russia to stay on global stage

ATHENS: Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed in an article published Thursday that the EU would not be a global player without his country's help as he prepared to visit the bloc for the first time in almost a year.

Putin, who starts a two-day visit to Greece on Friday, also called for an energy alliance with Europe and the relaxation of visa rules for Russians travelling to the EU.

"A rightful position of the Old Continent in the new international realities can only be secured by combining capacities of all European countries, including Russia," Putin said in the article in the Kathimerini daily.

"We believe our relations with the EU do not face any problems that we cannot solve. To get back to a multifaceted partnership, the deficient approach of one-sided relationships should be abandoned. There should be true respect for each other's opinions and interests."

Trade and economy will top the agenda of the visit, Moscow said.

Greece and Russia will sign a "number of bilateral agreements," the Kremlin said without providing further details.

EU-Russia relations are at a low ebb over the conflict in Ukraine that broke out in 2014, with European sanctions still in force against Moscow.

The sanctions on Russia's banking, defence and energy sectors expire in July. Extending them will require a unanimous vote, and EU leaders are expected to discuss the issue next month.

Putin is due to meet Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens on Friday.

Putin and Tsipras will also unveil the famous icon by Andrei Rublev, the Ascension, which is on loan from the Tretyakov Gallery to the Byzantine and Christian Museum.

On Saturday, he will join celebrations for the 1,000th anniversary of the Russian presence at the ancient monastic community of Mount Athos in northern Greece, one of Orthodox Christianity's holiest sites.

Greece has repeatedly sought the help of Russia, a fellow Orthodox country, as it descended into economic crisis over the past six years.

Tsipras is believed to have requested Russian financial assistance last year as the country teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, although Russian officials have publicly denied any approach.

Russian companies have also been repeatedly linked to Greek energy and transport privatisation deals that were never completed.

However, Putin indicated in Thursday's article that Russia remains interested in tenders involving Greek rail assets and the port of Thessaloniki.

Kathimerini said a deal between Russian oil giant Rosneft and Greek refiner Hellenic Petroleum could be signed during the visit.

Citing estimates from Russia's state tourism agency Rostourism, the Kremlin added that around one million Russians are expected to visit Greece this year -- with Greece accounting for the largest number of booked package tours from Russia so far -- as Athens seeks to benefit from a Moscow boycott of Turkey and Egypt.

Putin was last in Europe in June, when he visited Italy and held talks with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Pope Francis.

Tsipras visited Moscow for talks with Putin twice last year, in April and June, ahead of his re-election in September.

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